Declan Bonner: Writing could be on the wall for provincial Championships
DECLAN Bonner has lifted the Anglo-Celt twice as a player and two times as a manager with Donegal – yet he admits the writing looks to be on the wall for the Ulster Championship “as we know it”, even if Proposal B isn’t adopted at tomorrow’s Special Congress.
The Tir Chonaill county has yet to declare its hand on the Championship reform proposals, with the case for the League-based Championship offered by Proposal B gathering momentum over the past week.
Strong opposition to any deviation from the current structure had been anticipated from most Ulster counties, with Armagh and Fermanagh already taking that stance earlier in the week. Down, however, are expected to back Proposal B, based on a mandate from its county board.
Bonner makes no bones about his own affection for the Ulster Championship, but admits “there’s going to be change afoot” in the near future, regardless of what happens tomorrow.
He said. “It’s a difficult one. I see the merits of a lot of what’s in Proposal B, but the Ulster Championship has been a massive part of me growing up and playing for Donegal, wanting to win the Anglo-Celt, and the same into management.
“That occasion, walking into a full house in Clones, it’s an unbelievable atmosphere, and there is obviously no doubt Ulster is the strongest provincial Championship. Any one of five or six teams could win the Ulster Championship in 2022.
“But looking at the bigger picture, is it a level playing field? It’s not, and that’s the bottom line. There’s elements of Proposal B that would definitely work and need looking at but if the Ulster Championship does not move on into the All-Ireland knockout series, then the Ulster Championship as we know it will basically be gone or devalued considerably.
“If you had four very competitive provincial Championships, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. You would remain where you are. But that’s not the case.
“You can take it that there’s going to be change afoot - whether it happens in 2022 or not, there’s change coming.”
On Wednesday, GAA president Larry McCarthy and director general Tom Ryan both threw their weight behind Proposal B at a motions briefing ahead of Congress in a move perceived as a major boost to its chances of receiving the required 60 per cent backing tomorrow.
Bonner admits he was “surprised” by that show of support from the two highest officeholders in the GAA, and believes it is further indication of the mood within the Association.
“It shows that this is what has been chatted about at the top level – that change is required.
“The balance has to be right. I can understand [Ulster Council secretary] Brian McAvoy standing behind the Ulster Championship as it is, but in the overall scheme of things, change is needed in the All-Ireland series.”
Meanwhile, having been ratified for another two years at the helm in Donegal, Bonner’s attention has already turned to the 2022 campaign.
Earlier this week it was confirmed that Stephen Rochford will remain part of Bonner’s backroom team, although Paul McGonigle has stepped away for personal reasons.
A further addition to his coaching team is expected within the coming weeks, while earlier this month Donegal advertised for a senior athletic performance coach to work with all county teams in both football and hurling.