Declan Bonner has stepped down as Donegal football manager after five seasons that began in a blaze of back-to-back provincial glory only to fizzle out over the last three years.
he veteran boss confirmed tonight that he would not be seeing out the final season of a two-year extension granted last August.
This brings to a close Bonner’s second spell in the Tir Chonaill hotseat, having previously served for three seasons up until the end of the 2000 championship. He had taken over in August 1997, still in his early 30s, after his own inter-county retirement was hastened by injury.
Between both tenures, he has been Donegal senior manager for eight years but without coming genuinely close to emulating the All-Ireland success he enjoyed as a player in 1992.
“I am stepping down with immediate effect from my role as Donegal senior football manager. It has been a great honour to manage this team over the past five years, as it was to manage the teams from U-16 level up in the five years before that,” the outgoing boss said in a statement released by Donegal GAA tonight.
“Highlights from my time in the role include competing in four Ulster finals and winning two of these, back to back, in 2018 and 2019. I am proud to leave the team playing league football in Allianz League Division 1 next year.
“I would like to thank each and every player involved with the team over the past five years as well as every member of the management team during this period. Their commitment and work ethic was inspiring and working with them has been a privilege.
“Thank you to the county board for their support throughout and, in particular, our chairperson Mick McGrath for his support. We didn’t always agree on everything but both of us always had the best interest of Donegal at heart.
“Club is the heart of the GAA and I would like to thank all 40 clubs in Donegal, in particular my own club Na Rossa who have been a brilliant support to me always. I would also like to thank the genuine Donegal supporters, most of whom I know personally. Many have travelled the length and breadth of the country with the team, and I know they will be back in the stands and terraces supporting the team next year.
“Thank you to my wife Catherine and our family Amara, Christian, Arianna and Cillian for their patience and support always,” Bonner concluded.
County chairperson Mick McGrath thanked Declan for the 10 years of service to county teams during which time he won ten trophies.
The county executive will be selecting a three-person panel to liaise with parties interested in taking over management of the senior squad, while Donegal clubs are also free to nominate candidates with a deadline of August 15.
As alluded to in his valedictory statement, Bonner’s latest spell opened with consecutive Ulster titles, prompting many pundits to tout them as dark horse contenders for Sam. Each time, however, his team failed to advance from the new ‘Super 8s’ format and reach a semi-final.
Moreover, the sense of unfulfilled potential was underlined by the fact that Donegal fell short at the final round-robin fence – to Tyrone in 2018 and Mayo in ’19 – when destiny was firmly in their own hands.
Since then, the team has shipped a succession of provincial body blows, none bigger than a shock defeat to Cavan in November, 2020, denying them that elusive Ulster three-in-a-row.
This was followed by a provincial semi-final defeat to Tyrone last year, their hopes undermined by a penalty miss and then sending-off for their talisman Michael Murphy, while this summer’s initially promising campaign unravelled when they lost an Ulster final after extra-time to Derry before falling to Armagh in the qualifiers.
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