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Donegal manager Declan Bonner pictured at a media event ahead of the Ulster SFC Final.
Donegal manager Declan Bonner pictured at a media event ahead of the Ulster SFC Final.

Declan Bonner relishing another Ulster decider


By Orla Bannon

When Declan Bonner first managed Donegal 20 or so years ago, or when he was ploughing through the early days of his playing career without an Ulster title in sight, he couldn't have imagined the kind of run the county is on now.

Sunday's Ulster SFC final against Cavan – who are playing in their first decider since 2001 – will be Donegal's eighth in nine years.

Not even Armagh, who ruled the noughties and made it to the Ulster final seven times in 10 years between 1999 and 2008 – and won them all – could boast such consistency. “It is an incredible record alright,” says Bonner.

“It's all distant years away from when I was playing in the 80s and 90s. There were some lean years in the eighties, though between '89 to '93 we got to five finals on the trot and they dried up after that. A period like this doesn't come around very often so when it does you have to take it.”

It must seem just downright greedy to a success-starved county like Cavan, who won the last of their 37 Anglo Celt Cups in 1997. Considering their 36th was in 1969, it means they've only won one in the last 50 years.

Given their proud tradition and five All-Ireland wins were between 1933 and 1952, there are generations of Cavan supporters who know nothing of the glory days. That makes them hungry, that makes them dangerous, and even though Bonner's Donegal team hammered them by eight points in last year's first round tie in Ballybofey he thnks they're a team transformed.

Donegal manager Declan Bonner watching the Ulster SFC Semi-Final against Tyrone.
Donegal manager Declan Bonner watching the Ulster SFC Semi-Final against Tyrone.

“They didn't have Dara McVeety fully fit last year and Gearoid McKiernan still caused us plenty of problems in midfield,” recalls Bonner. “They really do come to life come Championship time and you'd have to say Mickey has galvanised that group.

“The way they're playing football is a joy to watch. They do go for it when they see opportunities and the way both teams play their football, it has the makings of a great final.”

While the 1-16 to 0-15 semi-final win over Tyrone was more emphatic than the scoreline suggests, Bonner wasn't fooled by the nature of it.

Tyrone were very poor and the Donegal boss knows only danger lies ahead if they are complacent against a fired-up Cavan. “Tyrone hadn't really been tested in the Championship before they played us and we had our game-plan which the lads carried through.

“But it was far from the complete performance – we have plenty to work on. We are favourites in the final, yes, but Tyrone were red hot favourites against us and we knew we were well capable of winning that game, so we're not taking anything for granted.

“The last time out against Armagh, Cavan kicked 23 points and were very impressive, so we take our eye off the ball and we're in bother.”

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