Tuesday 20 August 2019

We can't afford to let another semi-final slip away, warns Bonner

Donegal manager Declan Bonner. Photo: Sportsfile
Donegal manager Declan Bonner. Photo: Sportsfile

Chris McNulty

Just as they were 12 months ago, the stakes are high for Donegal as they complete their Super 8s campaign this weekend.

Declan Bonner takes his men to Castlebar for a crunch clash in the latest chapter off their rivalry with Mayo.

And the disappointment of 2018 has been hard to shake within Bonner's squad.

Back then, Donegal met another of their fiercest foes, Tyrone, in the final Super 8s group game with a place in an All-Ireland semi-final up for grabs.

Donegal were leading by four points with 15 minutes to go and appeared to be cruising. However, the Red Hand County dug deep and goals from Harry Loughran and Declan McClure left Donegal counting the cost of a first defeat in league or championship in Ballybofey since 2010.

Before Donegal's opening Super 8s clash with Meath this year, Michael Murphy left no doubt about what that defeat meant.


"It is fairly raw within the whole group," Murphy said at the time.

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"That was in front of our own people, in front of our own group."

Indeed, Bonner has taken the lessons of last year on board.

The Donegal manager said: "There is no doubt that was a big hurt. It was a disappointing way to finish the season. We put ourselves in a position, we played really well.

"All the good work we had done all year, winning the Ulster Championship, getting in the Super 8s, leaving ourselves in that position to get into the last four, it was a really disappointing way to end the season in front of our own people.

"I am not going to say we did not mention it at the start of the year. We did, but did we dwell on it too long? No. We moved on because we knew that there were going to be changes within the playing and management group. We had to move it up to another level and we feel we have made strides again this year."

Eoghan Bán Gallagher's season has been ended by a broken ankle, but expects everyone else to be fully fit for the MacHale Park encounter. Patrick McBrearty has been rated as doubtful, but Bonner is confident the Kilcar man will be available.

Bonner acknowledged that McBrearty's hamstring was "tight" but added: "Bar Eoghan Bán, I'd be very hopeful that we'll have a full squad to play. They're on the mend again and we're hopeful on them."

Donegal retained their Ulster title this year and won promotion back to Division 1, but Bonner knows they have to take the next step for real improvement to be marked.

He said: "We know that this time last year we had an opportunity when we played Tyrone and we did not take that.

"We were within 10 or 15 minutes of reaching an All-Ireland semi-final and we did not see it out.

"We have an opportunity this year to go one step further and that has been the challenge. What is that going to take? It is going to take a big performance in Mayo's back yard.

"I think it is going to be a fascinating match, I honestly do. It is going to be a cracker."

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