Colm Bonnar excited by Carlow's sharp rise
By Cian O'Connell
Colm Bonnar's remarkable hurling CV has been embellished in Carlow.
A distinguished and decorated player for Cashel King Cormacs and in the blue and gold of Tipperary, Bonnar quickly turned to coaching.
Waterford and WIT developed under his guidance, while Bonnar also took charge of Wexford before a successful stint with Ballyhale Shamrocks.
With Carlow Bonnar has steered them to Christy Ring and Joe McDonagh Cup triumphs ensuring a place in the 2019 Leinster Championship was gleaned.
Managing and preparing teams was always something which interested Bonnar. "The course I did was recreation and leisure in WIT with the ambition to be a full-time hurling coach," Bonnar admits.
"It actually worked out, I was one of the first full time coaches in third level. That model has been followed in all the other third level colleges and universities.
"WIT was one of the first to start it off. I always loved being out there getting a buzz from trying to get a reaction from players.
"As much as I enjoyed playing I get great satisfaction out of seeing lads playing and improving. That is the case and I'm hoping we've done enough improving to be able to compete with the bigger teams this year."
Suddenly hurling is a significant topic of conversation in Carlow and Bonnar is relishing the sense of anticipation.
"Galway, what a game; Kilkenny coming to Cullen Park," Bonnar remarks.
"The atmosphere that is going to be there and the talk in Carlow already about it and it is incredible to think that they are talking about hurling in Carlow the way they are.
“We are looking forward to these games, it is a big plus for us, but we need to keep our end of the bargain.
"We need to make sure we put in the performances. We realise Offaly had a tough time up there, but we are hoping that won't be our case."
There is genuine excitement about how sharply and impressively Carlow have improved, according to Bonnar.
"It is new ground for this Carlow hurling team, who performed so well in the Christy Ring and Joe McDonagh," Bonnar acknowledges.
"It is hard to think that two and a half years ago that is where we were. Now they are competing against the very elite in Leinster. It is crazy, I never thought we would be in this position so soon. Having said that we will get a dose of reality very quickly in terms of going to Salthill to play Galway.
"We will see first hand what it is like to be a top class inter-county hurling team because that is where our boys have aspirations.
"What better place to start than against the current Leinster champions and the All Ireland champions from the year before. It will be a quick wake up call for us."
When returning to the inter-county game with Carlow Bonnar must have felt that he could bring their hurling up a level or two?
"I didn't really know what to expect when I went in," Bonnar replies. "At the time they had six senior teams, they are down to four now, but when I saw the four teams in the semi-finals I thought there was a good bunch of lads there. I could see myself getting a very strong XV, that is what happened.
"It took us a while to find our feet, we lost the Division 2A League Final, but regrouped to win a very good Christy Ring. It showed our potential that day when I think we scored 5-24 in Croke Park, they are well able to hurl.
“Obviously then we had the restructure with the Joe McDonagh, that was another step up, it was very, very competitive. Every team had ambitions to go on to win it.
"With Kerry and Laois having been up in 1B they had ambitions of maybe winning it and I think we were a surprise package last year. We took it from there."
Many valuable lessons were learned during Carlow's Allianz Hurling League Division 1B campaign which included a draw against Sunday's opponent Galway.
"Here we are, it is a huge, huge challenge for us, ground we have never covered before," Bonnar adds.
"We don't really know what to expect. We have seen these players on telly for four or five years. Even when we won the Joe McDonagh we were the game before the Leinster Senior Final, just to see the power, pace, intensity, and lightning speed of the hurling.
"It was an eye opener, that is the level we have to get our game to. That is the gap we have to close, but the fact we are playing these teams has made our lads train more and even harder to try to get their game to that level.
"We won't know until we hit the ground at 3 o'clock above in Salthill where we are."
While Carlow's playing numbers are low compared to the other nine counties in the Leinster and Munster, Bonnar feels the tight knit element is beneficial.
"It is because the club scene is good," Bonnar comments. "Sometimes when you have only four teams or whatever it can become very nasty because you could become too used to a player.
"In fairness to the lads in the last number of years teams have played it tough and hard, they've been very fair with each other.
"When they have come in there has been no back biting and because they know each other so well people with Mount Leinster Rangers would have first cousins on the St Mullins' team and vice versa.
"They know each other very well. The way we look at it is because there is only four clubs it is like a big club so there is a real unity among us.
"There is a sense that we are up against bigger counties with bigger facilities and more teams playing so there is that type of club mentality with us. It does help. It is more of a help to us than a hindrance."
Undoubtedly, Bonnar's purposeful approach has assisted Carlow's splendid rise.