July 05, 1991
Cormac, Colm and Conal Bonnar
The Dashing Bonnars
At the time of writing the Tipperary team for next Sunday's Munster senior hurling final hasn't been named. However, the indications are that it will be very close to the fifteen that lined out against Limerick. The one exception will be wing-back, John Kennedy, who was injured In that game and who has had a cartilage operation in the meantime. The player most likely to succeed him is unknown but almost certainly it will be a Bonnar. The name of that Bonnar has yet to be decided but his name will be Colm or Conal.
Neither player was fit to be picked against Limerick because both were carrying injuries. Colm's, a groin strain, was incurred in a National League game before Christmas. He was out of action right through the Spring as the injury responded slowly to treatment. When he thought he was sufficiently recovered he played a tournament game with Cashel against the Kilkenny champions, Glenmore, at Golden on May 17 and aggravated the injury. Since then he's been trying desperately to get back to fitness but is wary of tempting fate too soon.
Conal's injury occurred in Loughrea two days later. Tipperary were playing Galway in a challenge game and as Conal batted down a ball he got a bad stroke on the back of the left hand. A bone was fractured and a knuckle displaced. After a month in plaster he has been working the hand back to some kind of playing strength. It is unlikely to be sufficiently recovered for Sunday's game so it seems that Colm will get the call up.
Of course there is a third brother, Cormac, and he played against Limerick, scoring a great goal before halftime, effectively killing off their challenge. Although he will undoubtedly be playing on Sunday he is also carrying an inJury. In his case it's a knee. The injury happened in the Carlow Elevens in early May and has been slow to heal completely.
Cormac is the oldest of the brothers and he carried the famous name of King Cormac MacCarthaigh of Caiseal. Born on the last day of May 1959 his hurling career took an unexpected turn in 1988. He had decided to quit hurling after the West Tipperary divisional championship of that year. The decision was taken, not because he was tired of hurling, but because of the travelling involved, Living in Limerick with his wife, Nesta, a native of Mitchelstown and with no hurling connection, the 72 mile round trip to Cashel for training and matches had become a drag. So, at the end of the 1987 championship he made a decision to go at the end of the following year.
The rest is history now. Cashel played Clonoulty In the first round of the championship and, against all the predictions, beat them and went all the way to the county semi~final. Cormac impressed the county selectors and was called up for the Munster final against Cork. Tipperary led by l-13 to 0-5 at the interval but Cork had rallied and reduced the lead to two points in the third quarter. Cormac was introduced and was in the right place five minutes later when a Paul Delaney free dropped behind the Cork defence and he was on the spot to steer it to the net. It was a crucial score and halted the Cork rally in its tracks.
He was retained for the All-lreland semi-final and final. He became regular during the league campaign and impressed in the final against Galway. It took a while for the selectors to recognise that he was the obvious choice for the full-forward berth and the perfect complement to Pat Fox and Nicky English on the inside line.
There was a lot of consternation in the county last year when he was left on the sideline against Cork in the Munster final at Thurles. Tipperary's defeat made his omission all the more incredible. His weight and strength were never so necessary in the full-forward line. The choice of John Leahy, a fine wing-forward or centre field player, was proved totally inadequate.
No body can satisfactorily explain the selectors' decision. One explanation was that Cormac was injured but he proved his fitness the week before the game. A second theory is that there was a dispute among the 'three wise men', as the selectors were sometimes ironically named. This states that Babs l~eating, much impressed by Conor Stakelum in training, insisted on his inclusion. So, who was to be displaced? Leahy was mentioned but Theo English, from the south of the county and Leahy's division, wouldn't hear of it. So, Cormac became the fall guy and ended up on the sideline to watch Cork win unexpectedly and convincingly.
Whatever the reason there are many rumours and much criticism of the selectors. The whole episode has led to great increase in Cormac's popularity. There was a tremendous growl of appreciation and satisfaction from the crowd when he burst through for the goal against Limerick. It is a usual occurrence and a mark of respect for the man's commitment to the game and the high level of fitness he achieves. Known affectionately as the 'Viking' he has a fine physique (6' 2" x 14 stone) and some would suggest that he remains a gentle giant on the field. Cormac would disagree and so would many a backman who comes up against him in full flight.
Younger brother, Colm, has an impressive record. He's been playing at county level since 1982 and has eight Munster medals to his credit over that period. He's hoping to make it nine on Sunday. Surely an impressive performance. The record is as follows: minor- 1982, under-21 - 198~, 1984, 1985; junior - 1985, senior 1987, 1988, 1989.
The two gaps in that sequence of victories are 1986 and 1990. In the first of these two years Tipperary were beaten by Clare in the Munster senior hurling championship at Ennis. That defeat led to a re-think in the method of preparing county teams and the appointment of Babs Keating, Theo English and Donie Nealon to take charge. The latter was the debacle of the Munster final last year.
During the same period Colm played in seven All-Irelands, winning a minor in 1982, an under21 in 1985 and a senior in 1989. The losses were in 1983 and 1984, junior in 1985 and senior in 1988.
In retrospect the most galling of these losses has to be the defeat in the junior All-lreland in 1985. Playing against the breeze in the first half against Wexford at Kilkenny they led by two points at half-time and seemed set for victory but they changed their tactics in the second half and were behind by two points at the final whistle. The chances of Colm ever getting so near an All~ Ireland junior medal in the future are indeed slim and the possession of one would have given him a unique collection.
These years with the county were preceded by intensive involvement in games at Cashel C.B.S. During his stint there he won Croke, Fitzgerald and McGabhann Cup medals in hurling and football. However, pride of place must go to his two All-lreland 'B' hurling medals. These were won in 1980 and 1982 in the company of John Kennedy, the man he may replace for Sunday's game. Another member of today's team, Joe Hayes, played on the 1980 team.
Colm will be 27 years old a few days after Sunday's game. Whether playing in the half-back line or at centre field his contribution to Tipperary hurling has been tremendous. Over the past few years he has been an important link in the county's chain of success. He holds a record of 33 successive appearances in league and championship games over a thirty month period and the height of that run must have been the 'Man of the Match Award' for the 1988 Munster final. Such a contribution is a tribute to the fitness of the man and his hurling ability and was properly recognised when he became one of the 1988 Ail-Stars. ~o wonder the man is so impatient with his present injury and so keen to be back on the team.
The third of the Bonnar bunch reflects the family ancestry in his name. The parents came originally from Donegal and Conal's name was taken from the ancient name for the county. One might be inclined to regard Conal as the Benjamin of the bunch but that would suggest someone in need of care and protection. Such would, indeed, be farthest from the truth because the youngest brother is very much his own man and has an impressive record of achievement for one who is yet only 21 years of age.
Conal was drafted into the Tipperary senior panel for the 1988 All-lreland. The event attracted plenty of attention because he became the third Bonnar on the panel and, to be drafted in at that stage of the championship, was an indication of the potential of the player.
Conal first hit the county headlines in 1986 when he was picked wing-back for the minors. With five of the previous year's panel Tipperary were expected to do well and fulfiled that expectation by beating Clare. The Munster final was in Killarney and ended in a draw and Colm had to experience the pangs of defeat to Cork in the replay in Kilmallock. Playing at centreback in 1987 Colm experienced similar agony at the ultimate stage. The Munster championship was won with victories over Limerick and Cork, the All-lreland semi-final impressively against Galway and hopes were high against Offaly in the All-lreland. But, defeat was his lot by two points.
After being on the losing side in 1987 and 1988 Conal eventually struck gold in 1989. Playing at wing-back in the All-lreland senior hurling final against Antrim he performed impressively and seemed a natural in that position. On the following Sunday at Portlaoise he hit the jackpot a second time when winning an under-21 All-ireland against Offaly. Both victories helped to erase the memories of 1987 and 1988. Last year he was on the losing side in the Munster senior final and was on the under-21 team beaten by Kilkenny in the All-lreland.
Colm is completing his Masters degree in Commerce at U.C.D. at the moment and travels regularly to training sessions in Thurles with Nicky English. Some observers of his hurling would make him the best of the bunch. He has impressed them with his anticipation on the field, his burst of speed and his expert delivery. In a very short inter-county career he has impressed many, who see a long and brilliant future ahead for him.
Probably the thing that impresses most with all the Bonnars is their dedication to fitness and their high level of athletic ability. Not only are they hurlers but also footballers and handballers and anything else they deign to turn their talents towards. It has been said of them that had they been raised in an English village they'd be the best cricketers around. One can imagine Conal as the elegant stroke player in the mould of Viv Richards, Colm with the all-round ability of an lan Botham and Cormac with the dogged determination and score-taking ability of a Graham Gooch.
However, it's hurling they'll be on Sunday and there's no doubt at all they will give only their best and make a big impact on the game. Whether going for goal or bursting out of defence they will be fine exponents of the traditional dash of Tipperary.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
5th July 1991
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