No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

Declan Bonner: The League does matter – and Donegal must preserve top-flight status

Colm McFadden, Donegal, in action against Emmett O'Conghaile, left, and Michael Fitzsimons of Dublin

Colm McFadden, Donegal, in action against Emmett O’Conghaile, left, and Michael Fitzsimons of Dublin

ONE thing about being in Division 1 is that it is unforgiving.

‘Cut throat’ was how Rory Gallagher described it a few weeks ago – and it really is.


People have put across the idea that come the Championship it won’t have mattered where you played your League football.

The League does matter. Only the teams in the top six in Division 1 are there winning All-Irelands. I don’t know where this thing came from that the League doesn’t matter – it really does. You’re playing against better quality opposition and at a higher intensity and standard than you’ll find in any other Division. Divisions 2, 3 and 4 don’t come any where near that.

Donegal reached the All-Ireland final last year having been in Division 2 and there is an opportunity there for teams who’ve had successful Division 2 campaigns, whose confidence is up, to do that. But you’ve missed out on the seven high-quality matches which does leave you chasing. It’s important for Donegal to be in Division 1 and to stay there – for too long we’ve been going up and down the Divisions.

When I started in 1983, we played in Division 3 and it was only when we got into Division 1 in the late 1980s that it coincided with our run of success. It was important then to play in the top flight – and it still is.

This is a huge weekend in terms of points when you consider that there are six of the teams on two points in Division 1. With two home games in a row, Donegal could make significant inroads in the next two weekends with wins against Cork and Monaghan. It’s a seriously tight League and all the signs indicate that it will stay that way for the remainder.

Conditions are very heavy out there and it’ll be a dogged battle. Donegal will have to roll the sleeves up and will need to take the chances when they come, something that they didn’t do against Dublin. That night in Croke Park, I’m sure Rory wasn’t pleased with any of the two goals Donegal conceded and again defending as a unit, and improving that end, will be something they’ll look to rectify this time around.

Rory has something of a headache on his plate when he sits down to pick the fifteen. This League will go down to the wire and I don’t think there’ll be a chance to relax until the very end.


We’re lucky in Donegal to have two top-class ‘keepers. I think Michael Boyle should get a chance. He’s been around the squad for a long while without getting a look in. It’s also a possible opportunity to give Paul Durcan a proper rest. He is still the top goalkeeper in the country, but his confidence has taken a bit of a battering. He’s an outstanding goalkeeper and he’s a guy we need right for the Championship.

The likes of Neil Gallagher, Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden, Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn, Paddy McGrath, Eamon McGee, Neil McGee and Christy Toye will all be involved and we remain dependent on those men. They are key and we can’t afford to lose any of them. The difficult thing about bringing new players in now is that they are a couple of years behind in development. That’s crucial.

They don’t have the same conditioning that the lads who have been on the panel. We have as good a strength and conditioning set-up in Donegal as we ever had – but it will still take a couple of years to perfect that. I’ve been advocating the strength and conditioning coaches for our underage panels for a number of years now – and it’s finally happening.

We need to make sure that there is no gap, that the players have this work done and they’re ready.

The perfect scenario for Rory would be to consolidate Division 1 status so he can unearth a few more players. That is every county’s objective or dream.  While the bulk of the panel was in Dubai, the remainder – largely new players – played Fermanagh and Longford in challenge games. It’s a great run out for those players and the fact that Donegal won the games is a good sign.

I’d be in agreement with what Rory did on that end. With the minors, we’ve played a few challenge games in recent weeks and it’s great to get the lads to prepare for matches – in terms of the routine, the workings of the dressing room on a match day. By the time the competitive stuff comes around it has become routine if they’re used to challenge games.
Sunday will be a tough proposition for Donegal. This is a new Cork team. They’re a team in transition and they’ve done well – but this is a big opportunity for Donegal to get two points on the board again.

The bottom line is that Donegal should be looking at a victory. The boys are back from Dubai and are ready. Donegal to win this one.


THE meeting of Tyrone and Derry in Omagh on Saturday night is interesting for all sorts of reasons.

Tyrone were written off after a beating by Monaghan and several departures from the panel, but they came out fighting to record an impressive win over Mayo the last day. Typical Tyrone and typical Mickey Harte. They put up a very committed, defensive performance to frustrate Mayo – and I expect them to defeat Derry this weekend.

Derry could be in trouble because they’ve lost two games in a row now – and Brian McIver really needs to pull a rabbit from the hat. Derry have performed reasonably well in the League in recent years, but haven’t taken that form into the summer. It doesn’t look like their bad start will change this weekend, though.


CAVAN man Aogán Ó Fearghail takes over as the President of the GAA on Saturday and it’s great to see an Ulsterman going back in there. Ulster had great success during Peter Quinn’s Presidency with the Fermanagh man handing Sam Maguire over to an Ulster captain in each of his years in the office – hopefully Aogán’s will be the same! On another note, wouldn’t it be great to think that some day a Donegal man would rise to the ultimate office in GAA administration.

Have you a comment to make on any of the above or would you like an issue to be raised in the column? Get in touch with Declan:

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