Saturday 21 April 2018

'I take defeat badly and want to win every game' - Bonner

Declan Bonner speaks to his players before the game against Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile
Declan Bonner speaks to his players before the game against Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile

Chris McNulty

The autumnal sunshine was peeking through the blinds in Jackson's Hotel in Ballybofey, where Jim McGuinness was holding court. The Glenties man looked insulted.

"If that's the height of our expectations then there is no point going to Dublin," he said with a steely stare.

"I don't want to be associated with being a gallant loser."

Most expected Donegal - All-Ireland champions just two years previous - to be handed their coats by the Dubs.

McGuinness always believed and Donegal were 3-14 to 0-17 winners on a day that is recalled among Tír Chonaill's great hours.

Declan Bonner is cut from a similar cloth. Bonner is a serial winner who, by his own admission, is a bad loser.

An All-Ireland winner with Donegal in 1992, when they upset the odds with a win over Dublin, Bonner is back for a second stint as Donegal manager.

After narrow defeats against Kerry and Galway, Donegal meet Dublin at Croke Park this evening in search of their first league points.

Already, some in Donegal are looking at the next fixtures on the agenda. This one has, it seems, already been written off by most.

"I don't even hear what's being said," Bonner says.

"Any sound or sense of negativity, I don't even entertain it. We know this is a big challenge, a big task against the best team in the country, we don't need to be told that.

"But are we going down to make up numbers? No, we're going down to be competitive.

"We've had some positive signs so far, but this is a big learning curve and coming to the white heat of battle is where they'll learn."

Last year was the first time since 2010 that Donegal didn't visit Croke Park.

For the previous six years, Donegal supporters felt at home down Jones' Road. From 2011-2016, Donegal played 21 times at headquarters, winning on nine occasions.

Six times they came up against Dublin, with that 2014 semi-final being their sole win.

Bonner is a long-time admirer of Dublin.

"Dublin have real work ethic and they always demand that. Look at the top teams in every sport, the All Blacks, Barcelona, or the top individual sportspeople: they all have talent and they all have quality, but it's the work ethic that makes them the success they are.

"We look for that in Donegal. The response has been good so far. The guys have taken ownership; that sets aside the good from the very good."

Among the new faces recruited by Bonner, who assumed control following Rory Gallagher's resignation last autumn, was Nathan Mullins.

The son of Hill 16 hero Brian Mullins, the midfielder was born in Donegal and lived in Carndonagh until his teenage years.

It was perhaps a surprise that Mullins - who returns from a suspension this evening - didn't get a call from Jim Gavin after his Championship-winning exploits with St Vincent's, but Bonner soon pounced.

Donegal are jousting at the moment without Michael Murphy, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn and Martin McElhinney.

Several others are on the injured list, but already Bonner's stamp is on the side, even if there will still be a reliance on the experienced foot soldiers when the summer rolls around.

On the night he was appointed, Bonner vowed to make Donegal more direct and hinted that Murphy will be given a role alongside Patrick McBrearty in attack when he returns.

McBrearty kicked 10 points against Kerry and posted nine against Galway, but Donegal were beaten by a point each time.

Like McGuinness, Bonner isn't one for moral victories.

"We were in a position to win games and we did have enough to get four points, but we're sitting with none.

"I take defeat badly and I want to win every game we play. The mood has been positive, though. We've been unlucky, but hopefully we can start making our own luck now."

Irish Independent

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