Admiration for greatest Irish fighter Lee inspires Donovan

Welterweight prospect Paddy Donovan steps back into the ring on Saturday (January 27) against Williams Andres Herrera in Belfast.

The 25-year-old Donovan, who is 12-0 (9KOS), has a great sense of history and pride in Irish boxing. The amateur star turned professional stand-out recalls how he first met his now coach, Andy Lee.

“I was fighting in the qualifiers for the Olympics and a decision went against me, I was robbed, so Andy was commentating, and fellow Irishmen Ken Egan, he was a former Olympic silver medalist,” Donovan told ProBox TV. “They both agreed I had won the fight. Shortly after, Andy came knocking on my door and said, ‘Paddy, I am retired, I am away from boxing. I think you’ve got the X-factor. I think there is something special about you. I will come out of retirement to become a coach, and I want you to be the fighter I go forward with. Since then, it was me and Andy for a few years then he picked up Jason Quigley, worked with Tyson Fury, Joseph Parker, and he has a couple of other good fighters coming in. I am not sure if I can leak [their names] at the moment.”

Yet a fight in 2022 has been a pivotal moment for the duo. An eight-round decision win for Donovan that most would overlook took place during one of the saddest periods of Donovan’s career. Tom Hill had just beaten the undefeated Rohan Date. Hill was as confident as ever while Donovan was dealing with an unbearable burden.

“It happened at a very difficult time in my life,” Donovan said. “It happened after my brother passed away, and my first-cousin passed away from suicide within three weeks of each other, and I suffered a severe hand injury, a couple of months prior to their deaths. My mind wasn’t on training. I was at the gym, but I wasn’t at the gym if you understand what I am saying. I suffered a lot in my head, and I suffered a lot with my hand injury.

“You never see it coming, but when it came it was like ‘what now’? We were down, but this time we are down and out. Everything at that one time came crumbling down. To see my whole family devastated… being in the gym to prepare for a fight, really I was doing it to try to keep my dad happy. Having him in the gym with me, not sitting at home, sitting and thinking about what [we] are going through.”

Recently, Donovan’s coach Andy Lee admitted to ProBox TV that he had not been around enough for that fight. Donovan recalled: “At the time, Andy was quite busy with Tyson, he was helping Tyson, we just had Joseph [Parker]. [He had] two of the top three or four heavyweights in the world in his camp, and he was in Vegas, and the UK and I was going through the problems at home. I had my share of the blame, and Andy was very, very busy as well. We didn’t connect like we did at the start of our career. Me and Andy weren’t practicing the things we should’ve been practicing, because we weren’t together.

“I am sure it was a learning curve for me and Andy. I got my head down, got in the gym with Andy, and he got his head down and had me right around his wing… I am Andy's first fighter and I know I play a big part in Andy’s heart. I think he has a special place for me above all of his other fighters, because he really wants me to deliver because I was the guy that got him back into boxing, got him in a great place and now he is one of the best coaches in the world.”

There are many great names when you look back through Irish boxing, from Steve Collins to Michael Conlan to Katie Taylor and countless others. 

“You want to have a bit of Michael Conlan, Katie Taylor, and a lot of Steve Collins, [and] a bit of Andy Lee for knockouts,” Donovan said, talking about some of the Irish greats.

“Andy was that kind of type of fighter. When it felt like everything was going against him boom [a knockout]. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that what you want to see? Isn’t that why you are in boxing? I am not just in boxing to outbox somebody or get the rounds. I want to do what Andy did. I want to be known for being an Andy Lee-type fighter [more] than even how special Steve was a toe-to-toe scrapper. Produce a knockout when needed, produce a punch for the crowd when needed. So yeah, that is what we train in the gym to set-up these special KOs.”