September 18, 1992
Declan Bonner in full flight
A commentator's dream but a defender's nightmare
By Peter Campbell, Donegal Democrat
There's one player from the starting line up for Donegal on Sunday next who will stand out. Because of his bright red hair, corner forward Declan Bonner is a commentator's dream, as the instantly recognisable star shapes up to a free kick or during play. The handicap of being easily picked out by both friend and foe is something which Declan Bonner has come to terms with.
Donegal football's short-passing game sets itself apart from other counties, and inside that team Bonner is as distinctive as the style itself. The Na Rossa man was always destined to be a footballer of some note. Born into a household where father Dan had played county football for Donegal in the late forties and early fifties.
From an early age the young Bonner showed himself to be something special - the famous left foot making an impact in every game he played. An under 12 county championship title with Rosses Rovers in 1977 was followed by two under 14 titles in '78 and '79, captain of the under 15 Ogsport team which represented Donegal at Gormanston in 1980; an under 16 county championship that year also and his final club underage honour in 1981 - another under 16 championship.
Still short of his 17th birthday, he helped Na Rossa to a junior championship title in 1982 - one of four brothers on the team on a day when his younger brother, Donal, at only 15, stole the show with two goals which turned the game in their favour. That year also older brother, Sean was full back on the first Donegal team to make the breakthrough at national level in the under 21 grade. The Donegal success just came too early for Declan to have made the side.
Ironically, when Donegal again reached the All-Ireland under 21 final in 1977, Declan was just outside the age limit at 22 years of age. His only underage success with the county came in the shape of an Ulster minor league medal in 1982 on a team that included present day team mates Gary Walsh, Brian Murray and James McHugh.
Thanks mainly to the Bonner clan, Na Rossa, a small rural club on the Dungloe side of the Gweebarra bridge, gained further honour when they won the intermediate championship title in 1989 and Division One status in the All County League. With the promotion of most of the successful All-Ireland winning under 21 squad to senior status, the red hair of Declan Bonner was not seen in the Ulster senior championship until 1987 when, at 22 years of age, he made his debut against Armagh in Ballybofey. He had made his league debut against Westmeath in 1983 as an 18 year old. Indeed, it was something of a surprise that Bonner had to wait until '87 to make his championship debut as his form at club level had always been of the highest standard.
The articulate Bonner is a reporters dream. Always friendly, always courteous and always willing to accommodate. Gaelic games weren't the only activity to which young Bonner was adept at. His skilful touch with the left foot saw him as one of the best left backs in local soccer and his talent in this area was also rewarded. Playing with the Finn Harps youth side, he was one of only two home-based players on a team selected to represent Ireland at under 17 level. His flirtation with soccer, playing with Ardara in the Donegal League, St. Catherines in the Ulster Senior League and again with Finn Harps in '89 and '91, meant that the term close season was not in the Bonner vocabulary.
That was very much as Declan Bonner liked it, as he very much enjoyed what he was doing. However, trying to accommodate both codes nearly had tragic consequences last winter when he tried to combine playing League of Ireland soccer with Finn Harps and playing in the National Football League with Donegal. Although he had the blessing of both managers, the pressure of training and games led to pelvic stress fracture which almost ruled him out for the season. Only a complete rest after Christmas - he missed the League games against Wicklow, Roscommon and Dublin - cured his problem. He says "I only started training the week after the Dublin quarter final in Breffni and thankfully, everything went well from then and I have no problem now." The injury seems to affect players who train particularly hard, and other Donegal players affected by the problem in the recent past have been Brian Tuohy, Martin McHugh and John Joe Doherty.
I met Declan coming out of the ground after the Wicklow league defeat in Aughrim and he was far from being a happy spectator. Bonner's absence from the final three League games meant that he finished only third in the League scoring chart for Donegal with 1-7 from the three games before Christmas - behind Manus Boyle (1-15) and Martin McHugh (0-12). In the previous year's League, Declan had been the top Donegal scorer with 3-21 from nine games, only once failing to score. In the present championship run, Declan has notched 0-15 in the five games, just a point behind leading scorer, Martin McHugh with 1-13.
About Dublin - Declan thinks that they will be favourites. "They are playing in Croke Park, and it's home advantage. If we were playing them in MacCumhaill Park it would be worth three or four points, so they have to be favourites. We know we have a job to do and Dublin are a good side, make no doubt about it. But it's an All-Ireland final, anything can happen." Declan feels that his opposite number, Dublin captain, Tommy Carr, may not be particularly happy as a corner back. "I played against him as a half forward and he is a good player and I think he would be happier in the half back line. I'm looking forward to playing on him."
It may be no coincidence that Declan missed the quarter final defeat by Dublin in Breffni Park in the spring. Also missing that day was Matt Gallagher, and their inclusion on Sunday will be a plus factor for Donegal.
Outside the county the surname Bonner causes some confusion and is sometimes pronounced Bonn-er but in Donegal the second 'n' is dropped so when supporters are shouting for Donegal on Sunday the call of "bone-r" should be the one heard.
The five brothers - Sean, Michael, Declan, Donal and Aidan - all play with the Na Rossa club. Sunday, September 20th will be a red letter day for the family, not just for Declan's involvement. That day also happens to be his father Dan's birthday. Declan attributes his interest in gaelic games to his father's influence as a young boy. His mother-in-law's birthday also falls on September 20th, so a win for Donegal would provide the family with the perfect treble.
NAME: Declan Bonner
DATE OF BIRTH: 11/8/1965
WEIGHT: 12st. 5lbs
CLUB: Na Rossa
PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT: Irish Oak, Glenties
HONOURS: Two Dr McKenna Cup medals (1985 and 1991); Two Ulster Championship medals (1990 and 1992); Railway Cup medal for Ulster (1991); Ulster Minor League 1982); Intermediate medal; junior championship medal; under 12, two under 14, two under 16 championships
MOST FAMOUS PERSON EVER MET: Jock Stein
INTERCOUNTY DEBUT: v Westmeath in National Football League in 1983
WHERE: Mullingar, Co. Westmeath
FAVOURITE POSITION: Corner forward
TOUGHEST OPPONENT: At intercounty level, every player is tough
FAVOURITE GROUNDS: Croke Park
SPORTING AMBITION: Win the 'Sam'
FAVOURITE EVER PLAYER: Matt Connor (Offaly)
BIGGEST INFLUENCE ON CAREER: My father, Dan
BEST GAME SEEN: All-Ireland semi final of 1977, Kerry versus Dublin
BEST GAME PLAYED IN: Ulster Final of 1990 against Armagh
WAYS OF IMPROVING THE GAME: Make sure that players are not out of pocket from competing and training
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
18th September 1992
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