Saturday 7 December 2019

Bonner stunned by 'frantic' nature of senior county job

Declan Bonnner. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Declan Bonnner. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

During his time as Donegal manager Jim McGuinness frequently referenced a meeting he held with his players in Rosapenna Golf Club not long after his appointment where he held up a newspaper article titled 'State of the Nation' that ranked football counties in an order of merit.

The writer had estimated that Donegal, fresh from a bad beating against Armagh in Crossmaglen to end their championship, were 19th.

McGuinness searched for answers as to why someone would think that of them. Declan Bonner may not have such a "poignant" moment, as McGuinness described it, to hang his tenure on but it didn't escape him that one such newspaper order in recently placed Donegal in 10th position.

That belies their Division 1 league status that they have protected for the last three years, which suggests that they are a consistent top-eight side, and clearly places a lot of stock in their defeats to Tyrone and Galway last year.

Bonner isn't inclined to argue too much, however. "Someone put up on ratings last week that we are about 10th. That's maybe where we are. We have to try and improve and see where we are at the end of 2018.

"There was a stage when we were in the top two or three, that's where we are at. It's probably a fair reflection. Teams will be judged on their championship form," he said.

Bonner is returning to the position in Donegal 20 years on from coming within minutes, as a young manager in his early 30s, of landing the 1998 Ulster title. Only a late Derry goal, courtesy of Joe Brolly, denied them.

Bonner has since managed Donegal teams to minor and U-21 Ulster titles but the level of immersion as a senior manager has even taken him aback.

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"The whole thing is changing at such a frantic rate. It's nearly full-time. Every minute there is something to do with it," he reflected.

"Between players dealing with different people, a backroom team much larger than it was, it was a big decision (to go back) but working with the minors and U-21s, I know a lot of these guys. I've worked with a lot of them since I was 15."

Bonner's first competitive match in charge didn't get off to a winning start with defeat to his predecessor Rory Gallagher's Fermanagh.

During his three years Gallagher managed to maintain Donegal's Division 1 status but that involved intense schedules for key players like Michael Murphy who has only sat out one league game from 39 since 2012, against Mayo through suspension in 2015.

Thus, Bonner is keen to delay Murphy's comeback and also give additional rest to Neil McGee and Frank McGlynn despite two of their first three league games being away to Kerry and Dublin.

Murphy underwent groin surgery prior to Christmas but Bonner emphasised that the plan was always to let him off until after the first three rounds.

McGee and McGlynn will also sit out these games while Paddy McGrath continues to recover from a cruciate ligament operation.

"We were looking at the calendar and where players were coming and peaking. There was a big emphasis on the league last year and then, maybe come the business-end of championship, we looked to have nothing left.

"We had that in mind and the likes of Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn and Paddy McGrath, they'll all come in mid-February, three rounds done by them."

Planning, he believes, will be the key to their summer progress but it could come at an earlier cost.

"The plan is so important especially for lads with miles on the clock.

"The clock is ticking fast and hopefully they'll all be up and running by March then with four or five weeks' preparation for championship, we're planning for these guys to be peaking."

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