McAfee on the brink of national challenge after latest win

by James Hendicott
Stephen McAfee

Sallynoggin’s Stephen McAfee’s rapid progress into Irish boxing’s pro ranks continued late last month, as he defeated Colin O’Donovan at the second time of asking to take the BUI Celtic Title, winning the headline bout at Good Counsel GAA club in Drimnagh.

26-year-old McAfee – a former amateur boxer and elite kickboxer from Monkstown boxing club – has made rapid inroads into the world of professional boxing after two particularly impressive early fights, won with a knock down in each of three rounds, and a first round stoppage through the breaking of his opponent’s rib.

He had drawn his most recent fight against O’Donovan in late 2017, but learnt from the contest to down his more experienced opponent at the second time of asking at Celtic Clash 5, over eight gruelling rounds.

The super featherweight, based out of Sallynoggin, had looked behind in the early stages against O’Donovan this time around, but showed his strength in finishing strongly in the latter rounds and hauling his opponent in. “I was landing more clean shots [than last time],” McAfee told Irish Boxing afterwards. “It’s just in me to be honest, that grit and hunger – and I like a little tear up now and again.”

The contest is already being dubbed ‘fight of the year’ even this early in the calendar around Irish boxing circles, and coach Jonathan Lewins is already talking up a move onto bigger things.

“He’s an exciting fighter. There’s not a boxer in the country who doesn’t know who Stephen McAfee is right now,” Lewins told GazetteSport. “He came in as a relative unknown. Some fighters would come into the pro ranks with hundreds of amateur fights. We got a break in showing the footage of his kickboxing fights and his one semi-pro fight to the promoters and persuading them to take a chance on him early on. He stole the show in his first fight, and we haven’t really looked back.”

McAfee’s six-round slug-fest with O’Donovan in his third fight contributed key experience for the fighter, still at only four pro outings. “We’re making plans for him, we’ll be talking about it,” Lewins said of what comes next, dropping the Irish title into the mix as a possibility. “We need to make a plan for him. He’s not as young as some people at this stage of his career, so it’s important to keep moving up. It would normally take a lot more fights to get to this stage, so it’s going well.”

The win over O’Donovan puts McAfee firmly in the top four nationally in the super featherweight category, with the vacant national title formerly held by James Tennyson looking a natural next target.

“It was a tough fight against an opponent who deserves a lot of credit,” Lewins said of the latest O’Donovan contest. “We definitely felt he did enough to earn the win, but there are a few little things to work on.”

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