NEW DONEGAL MANAGER: 'He had a football in his hand for as long as I can remember' - Michael Bonner

NEW DONEGAL MANAGER: 'He had a football in his hand for as long as I can remember' - Michael Bonner
Tom Comack sport@donegaldemocrat.com @dgldemocrat

Michael Bonner is Declan Bonner’s older brother and one of four Bonner brothers who were the backbone of the Na Rossa club at all age levels for years at the end of the last millennium.

The Bonners from Doochary also played underage for Donegal at all age groups. Declan and older brother Sean graduated to don the green and gold at senior level.

Michael is older than Declan by a year and grew up step by step alongside him and from an early age could see that he had the X factor.

“There was something special about him when it came to playing football.

“He was always very dedicated and he always had a football in his hand. He was always out the back of the house kicking a ball and issuing instructions and coaching the rest of us.

“We first played together with Doochary National School. Our father was the coach and we played in the Michael Coyle Memorial Tournament.

“The Michael Coyle tournament was a competition run for National Schools in the Rosses.

“Our first club football was with Rosses Rovers. I won U-14 and U16 county championships with Rosses Rovers. Declan also won an U-12 championship.

“Declan played mostly at midfield in his younger days and he was always one of the main players on the team and always stood out.

“He was the team’s freetaker as well and that was something he practiced a lot and he was always very reliable. He moved to corner forward when he started to play senior with the club and county.

“We played county minor together in 1982 and won an Ulster Minor League that year. Declan missed the final because Rosses Community School were playing in the All-Ireland soccer final the same weekend.

“We beat Monaghan in the final. I was full-forward. That was a very good team. Liam Reilly from Dungloe was the manager team and Jackie McDermott from Ballyshannon was his assistant.

“Gary Walsh was in goals, Brian Murray was at midfield and James McHugh was corner-forward.

“We beat Armagh in the first round of the championship but lost to Antrim in the semi-final. From memory Antrim went on to win Ulster that year. It is probably the last time they won Ulster.”

Declan, Sean and Michael played U-21 football together in the same year. “We played Armagh in Armagh. Sean was at full-back and myself and Declan were in the forwards.

“Declan was just out of minor in ‘84 and he was also drafted into the senior team around that time. There weren’t many minors in senior squads back in those years.”

Michael acknowledges that while Declan was a talented footballer he also insists that he was also very dedicated and worked hard on his game.

“He always had a ball with him wherever he went and he was always working on his skills.

“He also spent hours down in Dooey practising his free taking and taking points from all angles.

“Our father, Dan Bonner, was a great inspiration to us and he was involved with us at National School and also at Rosses Rovers.

“Seamus McGarvey, Frank McDonagh, Fred Sweeney, Liam Reilly, Peter Boyle and Charlie ‘the Hall’ Gallagher from Annagry, along with my father were our coaches at Rosses Rovers.

“Our father did a lot of work with us on our own. He used to take us down to Dooey two to three evenings a week during the summer.

“We were all young and fit back then so he would work on our skills, kicking, shooting, soloing and all the basic skills of the game.

EXTRA WORK

“Declan used to do extra work on his own and he used to spend hours practising his free taking and shooting.

This was also in the early days of Na Rossa which arose from the break up of Rosses Rovers. Rosses Rovers was formed in 1976. But the club didn’t really take off until the Bonner clan from Doochary arrived on the scene in 1980.

Declan was a central player along with Sean, Michael and Donal in what was golden era for Na Rossa in the first half of the 1980s.

“We won Division Four in 1980, Division Three in ‘81and we were runners up in Division Two in ‘83. We also won the Junior A Championship in 1982 and the Intermediate championship in 1989 and Declan was a big player for us at that time.

“We also lost an Intermediate final in 1983. We also did well for a number of years in Division One and we were up near the top in those years though we never won it. I think we came second once.”

Michael Bonner never misses a Donegal game, league or championship and is one of the county’s best supporters. He can be seen regularly arriving at venues all over the country alongside Felix Melly.

He has the season ticket already ordered once again from Croke Park for 2018 and is ready for the road once next January comes around.

“I go to all of the games and I have been doing so for years. Obviously with Declan involved it adds even greater interest.

“I’m sure I will have a word with him from time to time about the team and let him know what I think, though I’m not sure he will listen.

OWN MAN

“He is his own man and besides he will have his mentors and management team. It is a tough job managing a team nowadays.

“But between being there before and his time in club management and with the minors and U-21s in recent years he has a fair bit of experience and knows what to expect.

“There is a lot of good young players coming through from the minor teams of the last few years. It will take a bit of time and work to progress them to senior football but with patience they should come through.

“The good thing is that Declan has worked with most of them over the last few years and he knows their strengths and weaknesses and what to work on to bring them onto the next level.”