Donegal manager is balancing youth with experience

Donegal manager Declan Bonner

A LOT of things have changed since Declan Bonner’s first stint as Donegal manager.
The Na Rossa clubman was a fresh faced thirty-two year old when he first pulled on the banisteoir’s bib in 1997, five years after helping Donegal win the All-Ireland title for the first time as a player in 1992.
Within twelve months he had taken Donegal to an Ulster Final against Derry. It was a time when the dressing room was sacrosanct – a place for the players, and the players only. It was a room where all issues could be ironed out – in private – and where, at times, some difficult conversations needed to be had among team-mates.
Social media meant having a post-match drink with local reporters with no photographs to be had from post-match dressing room celebrations. It just didn’t happen.
Nowadays, people are tripping over themselves to see who can put ‘stories’ up on twitter first while Instagram pictures of players celebrating with (or indeed without) silverware are the norm. Welcome to twenty-first century sport where everything – no matter how small or insignificant – is magnified one hundred times and more. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
Earlier this week, Bonner awoke to read headlines of ‘yet another player’ leaving the squad – talented young Gaoth Dobhair player Michael Carroll.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week, Bonner admitted to being more than a little frustrated at the head-lines.
“Listen. Players come and go from every panel across the county on a regular basis, it’s just that you never hear about them but up here, as they say, is different even though I’m finding it hard to figure out why. Conversations which take place in the sanctuary of the dressing room should stay there,” he sighed.
Explaining that Carroll had gone back to his club Gaoth Dobhair, the Donegal manager said that his progress would be monitored over the coming weeks and months, adding that there was no real issue.
When asked about the recent departure of Peter Boyle, the Aodh Ruadh goalkeeper, Bonner said that he was disappointed to lose a ‘top quality’ performer.
“Peter was given game time in both the League and McKenna Cup this year. It was an open secret among them that Shaun Patton would also get game time in the league and McKenna Cup and that’s what happened. Peter is a good lad and a good goalkeeper as are both Shaun and Mark Anthony McGinley. We’re lucky to have three very good ‘keepers,” he said.
While Dungloe’s Danny Rodgers has been invited to train with the squad, no decision has yet been taken as to whether Donegal will carry a third ‘keeper with McGinley and Patton this term.
Next up for Donegal is a re-arranged meeting with North West rivals Tyrone in Omagh tomorrow night, throw-in 7pm – a subject that Bonner is more than happy to talk about.
Originally scheduled for last weekend, the game was called off due to the bad weather which engulfed large parts of the country last weekend.
Did the extra seven days allow sufficient recovery time for players with ongoing niggles?
“There’s always niggles and knocks but, overall, we’re not too bad. The lads were going flat out last night (Tuesday) and we’ll finish our preparations in terms of the Tyrone game tomorrow night (Thursday),” he said.
The Donegal team won’t be announced until closer to Saturday’s throw-in but the Donegal manager did indicate that there might be a few changes to the side which started against Kildare last time out.
“There are lads who are performing very well at training and that has to be taken into consideration. Last week was difficult in terms of getting pitches to train on because of the hard ground. In terms of points there’s a lot at stake this weekend. Hopefully we’ll get a good performance and a victory,” he said.
Experienced defenders Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath and Frank McGlynn are all champing at the bit to get more game time while young St Eunan’s defender Conor Morrison is back training this week after it emerged that an ankle injury wasn’t as serious as first feared.
“The aim is to have every man one hundred per cent flying going into the Championship and we’re on course for that. We’re not too bad at the moment,” he said.
“We’re very happy with the quality within the squad. There’s a lot of lads pushing hard and there’s fierce competition for places. We’re getting stronger each week and that’s a great headache for us to have – deciding which fifteen to send out onto the field.
“The young lads have all done well and they’ve earned the right to wear the jersey. We’ll probably add a few more of the experienced lads to the squad but that was always the plan – to give them game time in the league. Some of the younger lads have really grown as players throughout the McKenna Cup and the league. We want these lads to get better and stronger.
“The atmosphere within the group is good and they’re training very hard. Their next test is in Omagh on Saturday night. We’ll take every match on its merit. We’ll look at the opposition, their strengths and weaknesses, and select our team accordingly,” Bonner said.
Donegal got their first win on the board against Kildare last time out after narrow losses to Kerry, Galway and Dublin. A win this weekend would help move them that little bit further away from the relegation zone ahead of two remaining games against Monaghan and Mayo.

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