No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

DECLAN BONNER: Time to create the right conditions

All the adult football in Donegal is finished up now and clubs are already starting to look towards 2017.

There will be AGMs taking place the length and breadth of the country over the coming weeks, and as always, the senior team manager’s position will be discussed in great detail.

The man in charge may have enjoyed good success over the last 12 months, and now he will want some extra resources to keep the club pushing forward.

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Or perhaps it was a disappointing year, and a manager may have to persuade a few people that he is still up to the challenge.

It’s also a time when a lot of bainisteoirs step down and it is up to the committee to find the right person to take charge.

It’s not easy to fill these posts, but there are good people out there, who are willing to put in the work.

It’s much the same case with our development squads, as we need to find good coaches to nurture our young talent.

Things are going to change slightly now that the minor grade has been brought down to under 17.

Previously in Donegal, players would line out with their regions at under 14 level, then progress to either the Northern or Southern Development squad at under 15, and on to the Buncrana Cup (Under 16), and the McGuigan Cup squad (Under 17) as they built towards minor grade.

However in the future, teams will probably link up as a full county from under 15 grade.

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Generally, young lads play a number of sports until they are 15 or 16 and then decide to focus on one, and there is plenty of competition out there.

Rugby is going from strength-to-strength, and the FAI have introduced Under 15 and Under 17 national leagues, and young lads will be excited if they are offered the opportunity to play for Finn Harps or Derry City.

We need to ensure that we create the right environment, so that when these lads come to our development squads, they know that they are getting expert training that acts as a pathway towards senior football.

There are good people working with our development squads at the minute, but I think it’s important that we try to get our former senior stars involved.

I know Colm McFadden is coaching the St Eunan’s College Rannafast Cup team this year, and I’d imagine those 15-year-olds are chomping at the bit to go to training and learn from a man they have watched in Clones and Croke Park over the past decade.

Colm McFadden has plenty of expertise to pass on.

Colm McFadden has plenty of expertise to pass on.


The likes of Colm has huge expertise to pass on, and I’ve said it before that Eamon McGee should be working with our young defenders and teaching them to tackle properly.

I’m not saying these lads are going to be brilliant coaches just because they played at a high level, but they have gained a lot of experience, which we should try to tap into.

We see it happening in other counties, and there’s no reason why we can’t get ex-players involved in Donegal.

Ulster Club Championship.

The 2016 Ulster Club Championship final will take place between Kilcoo and Slaughtneil and they are two clubs who have been banging on the door in recent years.

They’ve found the mighty Crossmaglen in their way at times, and it’s interesting that clubs from counties that have not done well at inter-county level have dominated the provincial club scene.

You think of the dominance Crossmaglen have enjoyed over the last decade, and it has coincided with a lean period for Armagh football.

Derry haven’t won an Ulster title since 1998, and haven’t really even been close to winning one, yet their representative is never far away in the club scene come the end of November.

Down had a miserable season at inter-county level in 2016, but Kilcoo are coming into next week’s final with serious momentum.

Kilcoo's Conor Laverty

Kilcoo’s Conor Laverty

You contrast that with Donegal and Tyrone, who have been the dominant teams in the Ulster Senior Football Championship over the last ten years, but their clubs generally don’t count at this time of the year.

It’s a crazy statistic that no Donegal club has ever won the Ulster Senior Club, while the Red Hands have only triumphed once through Errigal Ciaran in 2002.

It looks like it’s a case that the counties who last longer in the inter-county season have less time to play off their championships and therefore it’s about trying to survive in a short period of time when games are coming thick and fast.

When clubs then make it out of the county, they’re exhausted and haven’t the energy required for the Ulster Club.

In Tyrone, seven different clubs have won the senior title over the last seven years.

It hasn’t been quite as widespread as that in Donegal, yet you have to go back to St Eunan’s in 2009, since a club actually retained the Dr Maguire Cup.

I do think that because the likes of Slaughtneil and Kilcoo get their county players back earlier, it gives them an advantage when it comes to the Ulster Club Championship.

It will be interesting to see how many players from both teams make themselves available to their respective counties once the club season is over, because the reality is neither Down nor Derry are going to win the Anglo Celt Cup next year.

But if they throw their lot in with the club, there’s a good chance will be battling for provincial glory again, and who knows, perhaps even go on to greater things.

Paul McGirr Tournament

The St Eunan’s under 16 team are flying the flag for Donegal now and they will play in the semi-final of the Paul McGirr tournament in Dromore this week.

They recorded a handsome win over Derrygonnelly last weekend, scoring an impressive tally of 7-15 in the process.

I know they have put in a lot of work this season and they are well organised, while they have some highly-rated players, especially in the forward line.

We often see St Eunan’s teams dominate at under 12, 13 and 14 level, but this side didn’t enjoy any of that type of success.

They struggled to get past Sean MacCumhaill’s over the last few years, but that has probably made them work harder and they picked up that elusive county championship title earlier this month.

They have built up a lot of momentum this year, and while they have a difficult assignment ahead of them against Magherafelt, Pauric Ryan’s side will have belief that they can get over the line.

Donegal Masters

Donegal Masters manager John McNulty with Paul and Charlie Gallagher

Donegal Masters manager John McNulty with Paul and Charlie Gallagher

I have to congratulate the Donegal Masters team on defeating Offaly in Galway last week and winning the All-Ireland Shield.

Team captain Gerard McGrenra rang me this week to make sure I gave them a mention.

Gerard has been talking the talk about this team all summer, but in fairness to the big Glenswilly man, he walked the walk last Saturday and picked up the Man-of-the-Match award.

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