Declan Bonner delighted to finally get his hands on Anglo-Celt as Donegal defeat Fermanagh
Ulster Senior Football Championship final: Donegal 2-18 Fermanagh 0-12
TWENTY years ago he headed back towards the Clones dressing rooms a beaten man with a beaten Donegal team, but yesterday Declan Bonner was able to enjoy the sea of yellow and green as his Tir Chonaill side ended Fermanagh’s Ulster title dream.
Bonner was manager when a late goal broke Donegal hearts at the end of the ’98 final against their north-west rivals, his trophyless stint coming to a close two years later.
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Yet two decades on, in his first year back at the helm, Bonner helped end their four year wait to bring the Anglo-Celt back to the hills.
And it was no less than they deserved after first half goals from Eoghan Ban Gallagher and Ryan McHugh punched a hole in Fermanagh’s resistance before Donegal went on to seal the deal.
Even the presence of DUP leader and fellow Erne native Arlene Foster in the stands wasn’t enough to inspire Fermanagh on a day when they came up against a county well equipped to deal with the dogged defensiveness that downed Armagh and Monaghan.
“Twenty years ago I was in here as a beaten manager and listen, to come back here with this bunch of players is absolutely terrific,” he said.
“Winning the Ulster title is great, we don’t win them that often. I think that’s nine in total, and we’ve lost a lot more. And in fairness to the lads, I thought the performance they put on there was top class.
“I came in when Rory stepped down last year, we'd a lot of meetings with the players, we wanted to exactly where they were at and why things didn't exactly go right over the last 12 months and we started to work hard.
“The boys really knuckled down and you could that hunger and desire was still there within the senior players and also the younger lads came in and it's been brilliant, it's great for everyone involved.”
Bonner’s men become the first Ulster county to advance to the Super Eights, though there is a worry over forward Paddy McBrearty, who left St Tiernach’s Park on crutches after being withdrawn early in the second half.
“He probably is a concern, but the medical team will look after it, Cathal Ellis and Kevin Moran, and we’ll know more later on,” said Bonner.
Yet the Kilcar man was still in the middle of the celebrations out on the field long after the crowds from Donegal and Fermanagh had gone their separate ways.
For him and the likes of Michael Murphy, Frank McGlynn, Paddy McGrath and Ryan McHugh – men who suffered the disappointment of Ulster final defeats in 2015 and 2016 – it was just as sweet as for those getting their hands on the trophy for the first time.
“It’s just fantastic to be able to get out there and to get back up those steps,” said captain Murphy.
“For the whole lot of us, to be able to lift an Ulster Championship was a fantastic feeling again. It’s just brilliant to be out there in the middle of all those Donegal fans.
“It’s been a very hard couple of years to be able to put that to bed a bit and give everybody hope and give ourselves hope again and push on now towards the Super Eights.”
How the Tir Chonaill men rated
Shaun Patton: Donegal profited from his kick-outs, which have been excellent all year. Fermanagh got the read on him a bit better after the break, but by then the game was gone. 7
Paddy McGrath: Seemed to spend more time in the Fermanagh final third than Donegal’s. Scored a super second half point and thought he had bagged a goal, only to see it ruled out for a square ball. 8
Stephen McMenamin: Kept Sean Quigley quiet from play after being given the nod ahead of Caolan Ward. 7
Eoghan Ban Gallagher: Scored the crucial opening goal after a quarter of an hour. Added another quality point nine points later. 8
Frank McGlynn: Didn’t get forward as much as against Down but always there to assist the Donegal defensive effort from his sweeping station. 7
Paul Brennan: Worked tirelessly in the heat, kept a close watch on the dangerous Declan McCusker and scored two nice points himself. 8
Ryan McHugh: Star man - Picked up where he left off against Down a fortnight earlier with an electric first half display. His run opened up the Fermanagh defence for Eoghan Ban Gallagher’s opening goal, and his pace cut the Ernemen to ribbons for the second, rounded off with a superb finish. Wasn’t as involved after the break, but by then his work was done. 8.5
Hugh McFadden: Played a deeper role than usual, didn’t get on the ball as much as in previous games, but helped limit Fermanagh’s scoring threat. 7
Leo McLoone: Donegal dominated midfield when it mattered, with McLoone putting in another strong shift. 7
Odhran Mac Niallais: Scored a beautiful point early on and got on plenty of ball in the first 15 minutes, but bypassed a bit at times before coming off 10 minutes from the end. 7
Michael Murphy: Had Che Cullen for company everywhere he went and didn’t get on the ball as much as in previous games, but still influential. Scored a couple of super frees and linked play well at times. 7.5
Michael Langan: Sometimes chooses the wrong option but his languid runs from deep caused Fermanagh problems all day. Ran 50 yards unchallenged to score a first half point and set up another score for Gallagher. Faded, but played his part when it mattered. 8
Ciaran Thompson: Sent over a trademark score from way out wide on the left as the clock ran down, and added another late on. Quiet enough in the early stages. 7
Jamie Brennan: Only scored one point but pace was a threat at times, and almost scored a goal early in the second half, denied by a Fermanagh hand. 7.5
Paddy McBrearty: Wasn’t hugely involved before injury forced him off just after the break, although did well in build-up to first goal, using his strength to get past Mickey Jones. 7.5
Daire O Baoill: Made little impact after replacing McBrearty. Kicked a wide under pressure not long after coming on. 6.5
Caolan Ward: Went to midfield as McFadden dropped deep towards the end. 6.5
Anthony Thompson: The All-Ireland winner came off the bench when the game was all but up. 6.5
Cian Mulligan: Always makes an impact. Scored a great point in the 68th minute. 7
Mark McHugh: Slotted over a point during a short cameo. 7
Darach O’Connor: Came on for Brennan and scored a point well into added time. 6.5
How the Fermanagh players rated
Pat Cadden: His midfield seemed unable to judge his kick-outs all day, some of them going too long, to Donegal’s advantage. A couple of risky short attempts were intercepted. Decent save from Jamie Brennan. 5.5
Kane Connor: Kept Jamie Brennan fairly quiet early on before being shipped out to try and contain Ryan McHugh. Got booked and then beaten for pace on the second Donegal goal. Withdrawn at half-time. 5.5
Ché Cullen: Did the same job as two years ago on Michael Murphy, following him everywhere. And did it to relatively good effect. No-one’s ever going to shut Murphy out completely but this was a decent attempt. 7.5
Mickey Jones: Got the brush off from McBrearty as he set up Donegal’s first goal. Kept the Kilcar man relatively quiet otherwise. Seemed hard done by with his black card just before half-time. 6.5
Barry Mulrone: Had a decent first half against Ciaran Thompson before finding himself up against Daire Ó Baoill. Attacked often and kicked a good score but didn’t punch enough holes. 6
James McMahon: Started off well. Doubled up very effectively at times with members of his full-back line and had licence to start attacks. Will be disappointed not to get a tackle on Ryan McHugh for the second goal. 6.5
Declan McCusker: The Fermanagh engine room, he was shut down by a wily Donegal side that limited his influence on proceedings. 6
Lee Cullen: The lively Michael Langan gave him a fair bit of bother in the first half. Moved into corner-back after half-time, only had two minutes on McBrearty and did better when he resumed battle with Langan. 5.5
Eoin Donnelly: Tried manfully to give his side an attacking impetus with a number of bombing runs. His score could have been inspirational. Didn’t get enough hands on ball on kick-outs. 6.5
Ryan Jones: Failed to have the impact he would have wanted on the aerial battle in midfield. Two bookings in four minutes ended his day. 5.5
Paul McCusker: Couldn’t get to grips with Ryan McHugh’s runs early on and was moved off him after 15 minutes. Replaced at half-time. 5
Aidan Breen: Got himself on the ball in a few promising positions but was uncharacteristically nervous in possession. Kicked a couple of wides. 6
Conall Jones: Dipped between midfield and attack and had fleeting moments. Won a couple of precious first half breaks. Did land a good second half score. 6.5
Sean Quigley: Barely saw leather in open play, but that’s the norm in this system. Hit four frees from four. Almost made the distance from play with a 50-yard effort that dropped just short. 6.5
Ciaran Corrigan: An early run along the endline was repelled. Kicked a good score from a tight angle, but Paddy McGrath had a fair impact for Donegal. 6
Eamon McHugh: Got the best handle on Ryan McHugh that Fermanagh managed 6.5
Seamus Quigley: Kicked two superb scores off his left foot, one from either wing, and landed a free. A threat when Fermanagh went long. 7
Cian McManus: Made a good option on short kick-outs but was left for dead by Jamie Brennan on a couple of occasions. 6
Tom Clarke: Had a limited impact. 5.5
Ruairi Corrigan: Did well to fashion a left-footed score. 6
Daniel Teague: Almost picked a great ball over the top of Donegal’s defence for Conall Jones, only to see it cut out. 6
Ratings compiled by Neil Loughran and Cahair O’Kane