Tuesday 19 March 2019

Bonner happy to live with Donegal expectations

Bonner scored the last point in Donegal’s maiden All-Ireland final win over Dublin. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Bonner scored the last point in Donegal’s maiden All-Ireland final win over Dublin. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Chris McNulty

After Declan Bonner sent over one of Donegal's most iconic points in September 1992, the county was strangled by expectancy.

Bonner scored the last point in Donegal's maiden All-Ireland final win over Dublin. Donegal was dizzy and drunk all at once - Bonner one of the heroes whose name will never be forgotten in 'The Hills'.

The well ran dry, though, and Donegal would lose their next five Ulster finals.

Bonner won Ulster titles with Donegal in 1990 and '92 as a player, but lost in the finals of 1989, 1991 and 1993. In his first coming as manager, Joe Brolly and Derry denied them at the death in 1998.

When Donegal careered out of the 2010 championship with an annihilation by Armagh, hope turned to desperation.

After Jim McGuinness's appointment later in 2010, expectation returned. Donegal hadn't won an Ulster SFC game in four years when McGuinness was readying the troops for a joust with Antrim in 2011.

By the time McGuinness stepped away in the winter of 2014, the level of expectation had soared. And even now, after three dry summers, Donegal still have their sights on success. For Bonner, the Ulster title remains the holy grail.

"When Jim (McGuinness) came in, Donegal hadn't won Ulster since 1992, but that desire was always in Donegal," Bonner reasons.

"It's always what Donegal wanted. You wanted to be in Clones for the Ulster final and that's no different now. You can sense that in training and we're working towards that now."

The evolution would, in time, haunt McGuinness's successor, Rory Gallagher.

When the Fermanagh native took the reins of his adopted county, Gallagher was expected to deliver the Anglo-Celt Cup, but he missed out, by inches, in 2015 and 2016 against Monaghan and Tyrone

The roof caved in last year and Gallagher resigned. As fate would have it, Donegal face Down in Clones knowing that Gallagher - in charge of the surprise finalists Fermanagh - is already peering through the long grass.

However, Bonner is adamant that they're not looking beyond tomorrow's semi-final: "We have to treat every game as a championship final and that does not matter who we are playing if we want to get to the next level.

"We've seen in the past teams that were expected to win games and they didn't. It happens every year and we have to be ready for that challenge.

"It does not matter to us who we are playing. It is a championship game. You have to play and perform."

The quick-fire nature of this year's Ulster SFC has made for a different feeling but the Donegal manager and his players have warmed to the task.

Says Bonner: "The lads going out for a drink on a Sunday night is not on because you get back into recovery the next day.

"Once a match is finished the focus switches to your next opponent. There is no time for sitting back and think well done and clapping yourself on the back."

Expectations have not dimmed in Donegal since the heady days of McGuinness's tenure, but Bonner's young guns are embracing the demands.

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