July 02, 1993
Cormac Bonnar - Big Cashel King was a vital part of Tipp's All-Ireland winning sides of '89 and '91
The loneliness of the former All-Ireland medal winning hurler is unlikely to effect the Cormac Bonnar persona this summer. Just retired, the Tipperary tiger of yesteryear admits to looking forward with great anticipation and expectation towards at least another Munster Championship triumph for his beloved county. Clare for your school holidays, Tipperary for the Cup, is the Cashel schoolteacher new battle cry! Yes intercounty superannuation, second time around, looks like agreeing with the elder statesman of Tipperary's most famous hurling clan.
The Bonnars are to the Cashel King Cormacs what the Fennelly's are to Ballyvale and what the Connolly's were to Castlegar in years past. The eldest of the boys, Cormac Bonnar has committed himself to at least another year with Cashel. They're relieved and understandably overjoyed around King Cormac McCartaigh's home patch. However, Cormac Bonnar has waved adieu, for good this time, to competitive fare at intercounty level. Pat Fox, for one, and Nicholas English likewise, cannot be too enamoured with their old colleagues decision. Tenders, it appears, for alternative, text -book suppliers of quality service to opportunist full forwards are already being sought.
Tipperary will miss the man affectionately known as the "Viking". Fox, English and others at the coalface will especially miss him, like a diver would his flippers and a wicket keeper his gloves. Somehow, a Tipperary hurling squad without their former supreme ball winner and target man is destined to look like a referee dressed in two-tone colours. For the last five seasons, especially, Tipperary minus Cormac Bonnar has been an unfashionable item as far as discerning Tipp hurling fans have been concerned. Hurling's haute couture and Cormac Bonnar have been one and the same for a long time.
The wear and tear gleaned from constant service at top class intercounty and club level has prompted his decision at 34 years of age to confine his powerfully engineered surging runs to the local, domestic circuit in his home county. The remnants of an earlier ankle injury and a more recent knee injury has conspired to make a mere mortal of the 'erstwhile Tipperary-colossus. There'll be no U-turn this time around.
Cormac Bonnar's decision to retire mirrors a similar move he attempted to make back in 1988 at the close of the West Tipperary Divisional Championship. On the way to winning the title, Cashel had shown their teeth like never before and with Bonnar in terrific form the club ruffled a lot of established feathers to make the county semi finals. Despite his declared aim of breaking with intercounty action, such was Cormac Bonnar's form on the club scene that it came as no surprise to anyone in the county when county selector Theo English sought to entice the "Viking" back on board the Tipperary train heading due north to Connolly Street Station. Even though Cormac was slightly flattered by the invitation to link up with brother Colm and Company once again, he was nonetheless sort of apprehensive about the surprise proposal.
"I'd have to say that I was slightly sceptical about going back onto the county panel. I always reckoned to myself that a player is in his prime between the ages of twenty four and twenty eight and by the time Theo had a chat with me, I thought that my best years were behind me", acknowledged Limerick's Ard Scoil Ris affable Math's teacher.
Married to Nesta and father of five year old Turlough and six month old Caoimhe, the Cashel King's return to the Tipperary Senior fold heralded unprecedented personal rewards. Already a seasoned intercounty campaigner, Cormac nevertheless caused more than a ripple of intrigue when four weeks before the 1988 Munster final he assumed his position on the county panel. Four weeks later he found himself in at the deep end in the decider against Cork. Introduced as a second half substitute Bonnar became the darling of Tipp's Blue and Gold tribe when he latched on to a Paul Delaney free to bury Cork's revival hopes. From there on in, through the subsequent All-Ireland semis and final, Cormac Bonnar never looked back. Every ounce of his trim 14 stone was as good as gold to the Blue and Golds: every inch of his awesome 6 feet two frame was worth an extra yard of space for Fox and English inside him.
Within three years of his return to hurlings fast lane, the Babs Keating / Donie Nealson / Theo English axis had fashioned two All-Ireland Senior title wins for Bonnar and Company. Both victories were matched by the conveying of a sparking of All-Star Tipperary's way and quite justifiably the former Cashel C.B.S. starlet was the recipient of the ultimate in persona G.A.A. Awards in both 1989 and '91. Both All-Ireland medals and accompanying mementos sat easily beside Cormac's All-Ireland Under 21 honours won in 1979 and '80 as an accomplished defender. Quite a feat or two really considering that Cashel's cutting edge only played his first full Senior Championship game at the age of thirty. That was when a Munster final appearance in 1989 against Waterford left him with the rare opportunity which he duly seized of starting and finishing a Senior game for his county.
Tipperary's first Munster Senior Championship victory in ten years back in 1983 coincided with Cormac's entry to the Senior Championship intercounty stage. Ironically, that win was against Tipperary's provincial final opponents on Sunday next. Thereafter though Cormac Bonnar was to enter into a five year self imposed exile from intercounty fare. A combination of injuries, trips to the U.S. in the summers of 1984 and '87 and an innate yearning for a taste of life beyond the pressures of constant trips to training and matches left the one-time intercounty footballer watching his old county comrades from a distance. In truth though, the 1983-'88 period left him with no medals, but no regrets either.
One of a family of thirteen of whom Colm (29), Conal (24) and Ailbe (23) are also household names in the hurling sphere, thirty four year old Cormac had tasted more success than most by the time of his sabbatical in '83. As a student in U.C.D he excelled in both codes . "I was better footballer, practiced gaelic more and was lucky to have played Sigerson Cup football with the likes of Tony McManus and Colm O'Rourke and to have won a College League medal with them in 1980, recalled arguably Limerick's best known current hurling import. It was a similar take of joy on the College hurling front too. Back to back Fitzgibbon Cup medals were scooped in 1977 and '78 as Bonnar's Bachelor of Arts Degree assumed a distinctly cultural hue.
Under 21 All-Ireland medals in 1979 and '80 preceded great times for Cormac on the club scene. Cashel King Cormac's county Championship triumph in 1980 was a realisation of the promise shown by that man Bonnar and his peers on the county Minor winning club sides of 1974 and '75. The fruits of their collective talents were further exemplified by the Seniors subsequent annexation of a future Club title. For the 'erstwhile defensive lynchpin, and most able of club midfield workhorses, a provincial title win meant almost everything. Eleven years later Cashel were to do it all over again, this time with famed coach Justin McCarthy and selectors Aonghus Ryan, John Darmody and Cormac's brother Brendan at the controls.
"Justin joined us in 1990 on the invitation of our Chairman Seamus King initially for one night's coaching but ended up thankfully staying with us for three years. We reached our first county final in fifty years in 1990 and a year later won it before going into that three game epic encounter with Kiltormer in the All-Ireland Club semi-final. Each of those games were so close there was always going to be only one puck of the ball between us at the end and that's the way it turned out to be", recalled the bustling, towering defender 'cum attacker.
An underage intercounty contemporary of such reliable of craftsman as Pat Fox, Donie O'Connell, Bobby Ryan and Philip Kennedy, the eldest son of Pierce and Maureen Bonnar reflects back on a career without hardly pausing to recall the downsides of his time with Tipperary. The times when he was substituted when Tipp fans reckoned he ought to have been left on. When he was called ashore when the fans looked forward to seeing him set sail for goal with a vengeance. "I was very fortunate to have returned to the Tipperary panel at a time in 1988 when the team was being moulded into All-Ireland Championship winning material. I was lucky. Over the years I've played with a lot of good hurlers who weren't so lucky. I can honestly say that I've got as much out of the games than I could have earnestly expected".
Written by Hogan Stand Magazine
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