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Bonner relishing chance to lock horns with All-Ireland final opponent from quarter century ago

By Declan Bogue

Declan Bonner leads Donegal into their first Under-21 All-Ireland semi-final since 2010, believing that they are almost at the climax of half a decade's work.

The flame-haired corner-forward of the 1992 All-Ireland winners has been manager of this group since they made up the county under-16 team.

In that time they have won all the provincial honours at their grade and made it to the 2014 All-Ireland minor final. Along the way, this group have provided several players for the county senior team such as Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Stephen McBrearty, Michael Carroll, Michael Langan and Jason McGee.

Today's Breffni Park opponents Dublin (2.30pm) have been engaged in a similar experiment.

Dessie Farrell - both Farrell and Bonner wore the number 13 jersey in that '92 All-Ireland decider - has done the same with his young Dubs and the two teams met in the 2014 minor semi-final.

Bonner was struggling to keep a lid on his excitement this week, stating in the wake of their Ulster final win over Derry: "It's brilliant - the fact you have worked so long with them.

"It's not that we have taken them on four, five months ago, we had them for five, six years.

"When I took it on first, when I took the under-16 job, I was doing the under-15s divisional team at the time. I said I would take on the under-16s and we would go on a five-year journey."

He continued: "The proof then of that would be how many of these guys would go on to play senior county football?

"My thing was that we needed to win the under 16s, the under 17s, we needed to win the minors, the under-21s and we have done all that."

While admitting that football was a serious business during his underage career, the size of the Donegal backroom team shows how much things have moved on. As well as the constant feed of information and performance tracking, keeping the players' egos in check takes a level of expertise in a number of fields, the Na Rossa man reveals.

"They are very grounded. We do a lot of work with them on the psychological side of things," he admitted.

"After five or six years, there is no room to get carried away. But they are very level-headed.They work hard at their game and they go about everything in a professional manner."

Dublin's youngsters captured their fourth Leinster title in a row with victory over Offaly last month. That dominance has not entirely translated into ultimate success, but Bonner is not taking them for granted.

The last time these two met at this level was the final of 2010, at the same venue. Michael Murphy's penalty cannoned off the bar to deny a certain Jim McGuinness his first All-Ireland as a manager.

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