26 May 2022

Enda Bonner's long service to Donegal GAA on and off field

In our series of players who were involved when Donegal won their first Ulster title 50 years ago in 1972, this week Peter Campbell talks to Enda Bonner, who was a sub in '72 but has a link to Donegal GAA that continues to this day

Enda Bonner's long service to Donegal GAA on and off field

Enda Bonner's contribution to Donegal GAA has been a constant throughout his 72 years. Apart from his short playing career with the county, he has the role of auditing the county's finances for more than 47 years.

His own playing career included playing minor, senior and U-21 for the county and although he stopped playing intercounty football at the age of 24, he has been a fervent supporter of county teams throughout his life, and was present on Sunday last in Clones when Donegal reached another Ulster final.

ABOVE: The Donegal team of 1971 which played Down in Newry. Back row, l to r, Anthony Gallagher, Enda Bonner, Hugh McClafferty, Joe Winston, Pauric McShea, Mickey McMenamin, Brendan Dowling, Declan O'Carroll. Front, Martin Carney, Andy Curran, John Hannigan, Brian McEniff, Daniel McGeehin, Seamie Granaghan, Thomas Quinn and Ray Sheerin.

He credits the GAA and especially a meeting with the 1972 captain, Frank McFeely, as being central to everything he achieved in life. He first met McFeely at a National League game in Armagh in late 1971 and as he had graduated with a B.Comm degree from UCG earlier that year, he was on the lookout for work.

"I asked Frank McFeely if he could secure me a job and he did. He was working with Ollie Freaney in Dublin at the time and I was given the opportunity to train as an accountant and I have to thank Frank McFeely for that. He was my idol in my youth."
Bonner explains how Frank Muldoon had taken over as Donegal secretary from Hugh Daly (who he describes as a real gentleman). "Muldoon, got Frank McFeely, who was working for Oliver Freaney, to audit the Donegal GAA accounts. I used to do them for him in the office in Dublin.

"And when I moved into their office in Letterkenny, they transferred the lot. I'm doing it officially in my own right since 1975. I have a great interest in it.

"I know everything from my football time. And I could write a book about all the county treasurers that I had. Starting with the greatest and nicest man you could ever have, PJ Ryan from St Eunan's. And I was very happy on Sunday in Clones to see PJ Ryan's granddaughter was a sub on the Donegal Ladies team, a girl called Laoise Ryan.
"I was delighted to see her involved along with Tony Boyle's daughter."

Bonner says growing up in the 1950s was a real learning experience, especially with the great Dungloe-Gaoth Dobhair rivalry.
"When I was young it was a great time for the GAA in Dungloe. I was only seven or eight when the famous battle with Gaoth Dobhair took place in the old football field in Dungloe. That was the day the Gaoth Dobhair crowd rushed the field and they went back into the town and the Parish Priest had to come down to the steps of the National Irish Bank and plead with them to go home. "Then they switched the games to behind the wire in Ballybofey."

The Dungloe man had a very successful underage campaign with his club winning U-14 and U-16 championships and then being part of the first two minor titles when Dungloe did the three in-a-row in 1966, '67 and '68.

He was also on the Donegal minor team at the time and even played for the Donegal minor hurlers. He recalls a story from his minor days.

"When I was at home from college and out training by himself this other man turned up to train and I didn't know who he was. But I went over to talk to him and he told me he was Sean Ferriter. He was a guard in Dungloe at that stage.

"Ferriter was one of my heroes. Then one day we went to Dungannon to play minor for Donegal, I got a lift with Charlie Campbell, a great goalkeeper for Donegal before Seamus Hoare.

"On that day we had John Joe Brennan from Dungloe, treasurer of the Donegal Co Board in the front and myself and Sean Ferriter in the back. It was a great privilege for me," said Bonner, who played for both the minor footballers and hurlers while Ferriter played for the Donegal seniors that day. "We then left to come back to Leitirmacaward to the famous Dooey pitch to play a seven-a-side that evening."

Bonner's football education was enhanced when he went to the famous Gormanston College in Co Meath for his secondary education.
"I was the first student in Ireland to use a Gaeltacht scholarship to go to secondary school, other than to Colaiste Einde in Galway.

"I pleaded with my father to send me to Gormanston," said Bonner, who explained that Gormanston was then under the control of the Franciscians. "Sean O'Donnell had gone to Multyfarnham under the Fransciscans and I wanted to go to one of their colleges because I wanted to learn how to play football.

"The grant was £75 and my father had to pay the other £75. And I couldn't have had a better life at secondary school than I had in Gormanston. That was all because of my interest in football and because of Sean O'Donnell, who was the great Donegal half-back at that time."

At Gormanston among those Bonner played football with were Pat O'Neill, who would later play and manage Dublin ("he was an average enough footballer in Gormanston"). Another who he played with and was a classmate was Charlie McCreevy, a future Minister for Finance.

"In the fourth year I got on the college senior team and we beat Belcamp, who had Kevin Kilmurray, a future Offaly player, and a minor colleague from Dungloe, James McCready. We beat them in my first ever game in Croke Park. We drew the Leinster final against St Finian's, Mullingar down in Portlaoise but in the replay in Navan on a terrible bad day, they were all big country farmers and were able to handle the day. They would have lost out to St Jarlath's in the All-Ireland semi-final, a team powered by Jimmy Duggan.

"I was playing midfield the following year but we lost out to a Dublin team. Joe Lennon came in during my last year in Gormanston. He came as a physical education teacher and in 1971 I got a call from Lennon and he wanted me to go to Strawberry Hill to become a physical education teacher. He was picking six young fellas. But the way it was I was out in New York and I was earning great money on the building sites, and I said to myself, 'what kind of shape will I be in when I reach 65'."

After Gormanston, Bonner went to University College, Galway, where he enjoyed some great Sigerson Cup years and it was here that his playing position changed from being a forward to being a defender.

"I went to UCG and in my first year I got on the Sigerson Cup team. I played at right half-forward against Queen's down in Cork in the Mardyke. We beat them and got to the final to play UCC, the local team. I was right corner-forward in the final.

"Then at half-time there was a fella called Ray Moylette, he played for Mayo at the time. He was training to be a doctor and was a bit older than a lot of us. Cork had a fella by the name of Eric Philpott who was running riot. He was taking a hand at Moylette so the manager of our team asked me to go back corner-back to mark him. And when I went back to corner-back at the start of the second half the people on the sideline started laughing. They thought I was so stupid that I was staying in the same position on the field.

"That was my first game ever in the backs. Up until then I was a forward or midfielder. I was right half-forward on the first year Dungloe won the first of the three in-a-row minor championship and in the second year I was centre half-back.

"I played three years in-a-row for UCG in the Sigerson. We had it at home in the third year and I was playing right full-back and the man I was marking would go on to be the husband of the President of Ireland, Martin McAleese. It was a great privilege afterwards when I was in the Senate to be invited to her inauguration.

Among the players he played with at UCG included some of the great Galway three in-a-row team and the famous Sean Purcell was brought in to coach the team in one of the years. Bonner was UCG's Sigerson captain in his final year.

His career as a Donegal senior player was relatively short, something he attributed to being domiciled in Dublin as one of the reasons.

"The first game I played senior for Donegal was in late 1969. Then I played in 1971 in the championship and I went away to America the day after the championship match," who recalls being taken by Co Board chairman Tom Walsh to the game in Newry.

"I had a terrible cold that day but I think it was the best ever game I played for Donegal. I was right corner-back. Down had some young fella on me that I had never heard of before or after."
Bonner said when he came back from America, he got employment alongside Frank McFeely in Oliver Freaney's in Dublin and was based in Dublin

"The problem I had was that in early 1972 there was a training session in Ballyshannon and I had a terrible 'flu and I was staying in a flat in Ranelagh and I didn't get to Ballyshannon.

"The next time Donegal played Donal Monaghan was in at corner-back. I lost my place but then I set out to get fully fit. Then every day after coming home from work, I got on my training gear and went running out to Stillorgan and back. I did that steady for three months and I can tell you that I was the fittest man on the panel.

"But I had lost my place to Donal Monaghan and I can see why because Donal Monaghan was a great player. When we were down in Gaoth Dobhair training for the All-Ireland semi-final I was able to show my fitness going on runs up the field. I remember my father saying to me 'why don't you take your own score'.

"Fair play to Mick Higgins (who was coaching Donegal at the time) saw that I was fit and that's how I got the chance to come on in the All-Ireland final. Pauric McShea was put up full-forward and I went in full-back. I was marking Willie Bryan and I had a good tussle with him."

After 1972 Bonner suffered a few injuries but also got quite a few games and one which he remembers well was a tournament game against All-Ireland champions, Offaly, in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey.

He says in his playing days he marked three All-Stars - Paddy Moriarty of Armagh; Anthony McGurk of Derry and Andy McCallin of Antrim in an Ulster Junior final, which he says was a big disappointment in losing.

While he stopped playing at intercounty level early in 1974, he continued to play for Dungloe until he was 35. Apart from his underage success, he captained Rosses Rovers to a senior county final against St Joseph's in 1970.

"I was sent off that day with Mickey McLoone. McLoone was playing centre half-forward. I beat Mickey to a ball near the sideline and he took the legs from under me. If I had to do nothing, Patsy Devlin was refereeing, Mickey would have got the line and I would have stayed on. But I retaliated and the two of us were sent of. McShea was sent off later on in the second half.

"They had a great team, we had no hope against them. We were fortunate to be in the final as we beat Inishowen in the semi-final."
His successes at adult level were winning a Junior title with Ranafast in 1969 and a Junior B with Dungloe in 1983.

Enda Bonner is well placed to pick the best players that represented Donegal during his lifetime and he says he spent some time thinking about that during Covid lockdown.

"I have picked the best team that I played with and also my best ever Donegal 15."
The best team he played alongside (this includes colleges and playing for Donegal New York) is: Packie Bonner ("played for us when he was U-16 and I was full-back); Donal Monaghan, Pauric McShea, John Hannigan; Sean O'Donnell, PJ Flood, Andy Curran; Sean Ferriter, Frank McFeely; Mickey McLoone, Dermot Earley, Brendan Lynch (both Donegal New York); Liam Sammon (UCG), Seamus Bonar, Mickey Griffin.

Bonner said he had a great relationship with Mickey Griffin, who he had met when he was a 12 year old in Ranafast, where Mickey's mother was from. He also mentioned that he had played with Des Houlihan in the Ulster junior final.
Bonner mentions a very personal story about how Seamus Hoare was close to his heart. "In 1971 there was a Donegal trial game in Convoy and I received a letter in Galway to say that Seamus Hoare, who was based in Limerick, would pick me up.

"Seamus contacted me saying he didn't have much interest in the trial and that his playing days at county level were over. But he said that if I did not turn up that I would not be picked again. Seamus came up from Limerick and took me to the trial, and I will never forget that," said Bonner.

Bonner's best ever Donegal team makes interesting reading:
Seamus Hoare; Barry McGowan, Neil McGee, John Hannigan; Sean O'Donnell, PJ Flood, Frank McGlynn; Sean Ferriter, Frank McGlynn; Martin McHugh, Michael Murphy, Michael Langan ("I think is going to be the best of the lot of them"); Seamie Granaghan, Tony Boyle and Manus Boyle.

Bonner also picks his subs: Pauric McShea, Bernard Brady (I had to pick Neil McGee as he has five Ulster medals), Mickey McLoone, Martin Carney, Cormac Breslin and Mickey Griffin.

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