Donegal manager Bonner not worried about relegation
By John Harrington
Donegal manager Declan Bonner says it “won’t be the end of the World” if his team are relegated from Division 1 of the Allianz Football League.
They registered their first win of the campaign last time out against Kildare after three previous defeats, but are still very much in the relegation danger-zone.
Saturday night’s match against a Tyrone team that also has just one win from four matches is obviously a pivotal one, but Bonner insists he’s far more worried about how Donegal fare in the summer than the spring.
“We set our stall out at the start of the season that we knew the games that were coming early on were going to be fairly difficult,” he said. “We knew we would be fielding a fairly inexperienced side.
“It wasn't going to be the be all and end all if we didn't stay in Division One. Naturally enough we want to be competitive and win every game we got out to play, but we're still on a learning curve.
“Do we want to be in Division One next year? Absolutely we do. But if it doesn't happen it won't be the end of the world.
“It's down the road where we'll be gauged when it comes to the Championship and our eyes are firmly fixed on that Cavan match. They've been going very well and are probably on the way back up to Division 1.
“In the short-term we're just focusing on playing Tyrone in a North-West derby. There's points at stake and valuable points and we'll be going out there to give it our all to get those two points.”
Bonner made no bones about his intention to promote youth and get the team playing a more expansive brand of football when he was appointed Donegal manager late last year.
So far, he’s been true to his word. Donegal have played a more attacking brand of football with a greater emphasis on kick-passing than they would have heretofore, and a new generation of players have been given the chance to impress in the League.
“I would have known most of these guys for a long period of time and coached a lot of the younger lads coming up,” said Bonner, who managed Donegal to a Minor Ulster title in 2014 and an U-21 Ulster title last year.
“The more experienced players are back in training now and adapting well and that's important because we need that blend and balance between the youth and experience when we're trying to change the way we play.
“It's not going to happen in a week or a month, it's going to take a period of time, but bit by bit they're getting there.
“It'll take a lot more time on the training ground, but all the lads are embracing it. Their attitude has been top class and they're going about their business in a professional manner and that's all you can ask for.
“We have blooded a good number of them right through the McKenna Cup and League and with more experience lads coming back in now we have good competition within the group.
“We do need that experience, no doubt about it, and maybe the performances in the first couple of matches were good but maybe there was that lack of experience that prevented us from seeing those games out.
“Those guys are back in and it's a great learning curve for a lot of these younger lads. They're adapting very good to senior inter-county football and it's all positive at the minute.”
Donegal were slightly unfortunate to lose to both Kerry and Galway by just a point in their first two League matches and then gave Dublin a serious run for their money in Croke Park in Round 3.
As well as their young players were performing, the danger was that confidence levels would inevitably start dipping if they kept losing matches which is why their scrappy win over Kildare in Round 4 was a timely boost.
If they could follow that up with another win over Tyrone, then the development of this young Donegal team would surely be accelerated further.
Bonner might have one eye on the Championship, but when these two rivals meet there’s little chance of either holding anything back.
“Yeah, it's been a great rivalry down through the years,” said Bonner. “I would have met them a good number of times at underage level too, at U-16s, minors, and U-21s so, yeah, there's a good rivalry there.
“Mickey Harte has been there a long time and is the most experienced manager in the country. he's been there and he's done that and he's been a really good servant to Tyrone football.
“One thing Tyrone always have is really good footballers, they've always had a lot of good underage teams. they were the benchmark in Ulster and they still are.
“They have plenty of experienced and very good players there so it's going to be a good test for us, it should be an interesting match.”