Declan Bonner baffled by criticism of Michael Murphy

With Donegal running one of the smallest football panels in the country and one of the largest backroom teams, it’s not stretching things much to suggest there are now more people operating outside the whitewash than inside.

Declan Bonner baffled by criticism of Michael Murphy

With Donegal running one of the smallest football panels in the country and one of the largest backroom teams, it’s not stretching things much to suggest there are now more people operating outside the whitewash than inside.

Declan Bonner is working off a pool of 29 players this season, and he reckons it’s the way to go.

“We reduced the panel down to a very small squad and we deliberately did that to keep it very tight,” he explained. “We wanted to keep it close-knit.

“Obviously you run the risk of picking up injuries and we have, but the beauty of it is when you have a fully fit squad, that closeness is really beneficial.”

On the other side of the white line, the numbers keep increasing and Donegal are one of many counties with backroom personnel swelling into the 20s.

It’s a different world to when Bonner, who is aiming to lead the county to back-to-back Ulster titles on Sunday against Cavan, last managed Donegal 20 years ago.

“At that stage it was myself and two selectors, now there’s the in-depth analysis, strength and conditioning, nutritionists and there’s five coaches there now.

“It’s so vital to have a team around you that number one, you can trust, and number two, have the ability to carry out their jobs. Those are the vital ingredients.

Players also know exactly what is expected of them. Drink bans are never even mentioned.

“It used to be training was at half seven and boys arrived at 20 minutes past and threw on a pair boots.

“Now they’re arriving an hour, hour and a half early to get ready to train.

“And it is the experienced players who are vital in that, the quality they bring not just on the field but in the team meetings when they’re chatting to these younger boys.

“The likes of Michael (Murphy), Patrick (McBrearty), Frank (McGlynn), Leo (McLoone), Paddy (McGrath) and Neil (McGee), guys that have been about the block but that hunger is still there, that desire.

“They are the ones driving the thing on.”

Bonner also defended Michael Murphy after baffling criticism from TV pundit Colm O’Rourke. In the build-up to Donegal’s Ulster semi-final win over Tyrone, Meath’s former All-Ireland winner suggested Murphy doesn’t often perform on the biggest of stages.

Bonner responded: “I think Colm might need to go to Specsavers, because any big game I’ve seen, Michael does not go hiding, that’s for sure. He has been brilliant, he is a leader on and off the pitch and he goes looking for work anywhere on that pitch.”

Murphy was a key player in Donegal’s four-point win over Tyrone, kicking five points which helped put the county through to an eighth Ulster final in nine years.

The Glenswilly man, who has been captain for all of those seasons, could lead the team to a fifth Ulster title in this decade against Cavan on Sunday.

“People say he should play inside, midfield or whatever, but Michael was outstanding again against Tyrone,” Bonner said.

He was winning ball in midfield when we needed ball and fielding kickouts and kicked some vital scores on the day.

“He is one of the top players in the country for this last decade.”

While the 1-16 to 0-15 win over Tyrone was emphatic, Bonner hasn’t been 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 county in its first final since 2001.

“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 take our eye off the ball and we’re in bother.”

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