Bon­ner is as driven as ever to serve Done­gal

Belfast Telegraph - - SPORT - De­clan Boguener

TWO Sun­days ago, Done­gal man­ager De­clan Bon­had just fin­ished up a train­ing ses­sion in Bally­bofey when his phone buzzed.

The name of Pat Caulfield, man­ager of Na Rossa flashed up. “Where are you, we are re­ally strug­gling?” was his ques­tion. He didn’t wait for a re­ply be­fore ask­ing Bon­ner if he wouldn’t mind stand­ing in goal for their league game.

Bon­ner had other plans. Done­gal du­ties had tied him up all week­end and he wanted to do some­thing with the fam­ily, but he played. “Of course,” he says.

And so, at the age of 52, mi­nus the fa­mous or­ange blaze of hair in his prime and a week on from lead­ing Done­gal to the Ul­ster ti­tle, Bon­ner kept a clean sheet as they went down 0-11 to 0-6 to Burt. A week later, he kept his place against Bun­crana.

That’s the way it is with his life. He might well be the old­est man play­ing se­nior foot­ball in Ire­land — 20 years af­ter he was the Done­gal se­nior man­ager for the first time.

He is with­out a doubt the only cur­rent in­ter-county man­ager who is also chair­man of his club, a role he has main­tained for the last seven years.

This Satur­day, he goes to the other end of the spec­trum in Gaelic foot­ball. Few chal­lenges ig­nite play­ers and man­age­ment more than fac­ing Dublin in Croke Park, Hill 16 rock­ing — the same Hill that Bon­ner si­lenced with his fourth and the final point of the 1992 All-Ire­land final.

And given the back and forth be­tween Done­gal and Croke Park of­fi­cials over the is­sue of Dublin get­ting two home games in this Su­per 8s series, the Hill will be in full voice come Satur­day night.

Had the cards have fallen dif­fer­ently, his sport­ing life might have been quite dif­fer­ent. When you con­sider his age, he might have been one of the im­mor­tal gods of Italia ’90, only for Billy McNeill’s urge to test him­self as a man­ager away from Celtic.

Bon­ner had never played an or­gan­ised game of soc­cer be­fore he at­tended Rosses Com­mu­nity School at 13. Two years later, play­ing cen­tre-half, they won an All-Ire­land. He be­came im­mersed in the In­ter­na­tional un­der­age sys­tem and some­how, given the his­toric favour­ing of Dublin-based play­ers, Bon­ner ended up as cap­tain of the Repub­lic of Ire­land youth team, man­aged by Liam Tuohy.

“So I went over to Celtic, Packie Bon­ner was break­ing into the first team then, around about 1982 or ’83,” Bon­ner re­calls.

“I was over on around three dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions and on the last one, which would have been around Easter, be­fore I went back for my Leav­ing Cert, Billy McNeill called me into the of­fice and said, ‘Lis­ten, we are go­ing to give you a two-year con­tract. Go away and do your ex­ams and report for pre-sea­son. Off you go!’

“So that was my plan for the fore­see­able fu­ture. I went back and was play­ing with my own club, any­thing that was go­ing. And around about the last cou­ple of days of my ex­ams I got a phone call through to the school to say that McNeill had taken a job of­fer at Man City and was talk­ing all his staff with him. So that was that!”

Years later when the Done­gal squad were toast­ing that ’92 All-Ire­land, they fetched up for a game at Park­head. McNeill was there, recog­nised that dis­tinc­tive Bon­ner hair and the two talked about old times to the as­ton­ish­ment of the other Done­gal play­ers.

Yet he didn’t have time to dwell on how the Celtic move fal­tered. Later that sum­mer of 1983, Brian McEniff led Done­gal to an Ul­ster ti­tle and Bon­ner was called into the squad for the fol­low­ing pre-Christ­mas league cam­paign.

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