Bonner feeling distraught as brave Donegal fall just short
Donegal 1-10 Kerry 0-17
He would describe it as a good year overall and talk of achievement in simply reaching an All-Ireland final, Donegal's first ever, but disappointment was etched all over Declan Bonner's face.
The Donegal manager watched as his side played catch up throughout a tense and intriguing minor decider and, ultimately, came up just short.
They had their chances. Jamie Brennan crashed one shot off the post at a crucial stage midway through the second half when a goal would have tied it.
Late on, there were more goal chances too as they attempted to steal a famous Croke Park win.
But even Bonner would admit afterwards that victory would probably have flattered his side, who have finally come to the end of a winning run that stretches back to the Under-16 grade.
"It's still been a very, very good year, we've won the Ulster minor league and championship and we're the first team from Donegal to reach an All-Ireland final," said Bonner.
"But when you do get to the final, you want to win it. We came up short against a very good Kerry side on the day and it's devastation really in that dressing-room."
Emerging from the neighbouring Kerry dressing-room, victorious manager Jack O'Connor was more upbeat. He summed their success up pretty well.
"Those inside the dressing room weren't even born when we won it the last time (in 1994)," he smiled.
A battling Kerry win at Croke Park was a little piece of history then, on so many fronts.
On a personal level, O'Connor has joined an elite group of managers to have won All-Irelands at minor, Under-21 and senior level.
It was made possible by a classy collection of minors who, firstly, showed their style to move six points up with 10 minutes to go and then their substance to repel a late Donegal fightback.
Kerry, crucially, scored the game's last three points with some famous Kingdom names, Tom O'Sullivan and a Spillane, Pat's nephew, Killian, delivering the decisive scores.
As for his own achievement, three-time senior winning manager O'Connor admitted it was a proud day.
"I did it back to front (winning the Under-21 title first), it was like putting the wedding before the honeymoon," smiled O'Connor. "It's a great feeling. I've always enjoyed coaching this age group in particular. I cut my teeth with the colleges football starting off. I'm just thrilled."
Bonner made several switches to his side, introducing Eoghan 'Ban' Gallagher following injury and Ethan O'Donnell, who hit the winning point as a substitute in the semi-final.
There were positional switches in every line of the field too with the general emphasis placed on defending stoutly.
It worked, to a point. They frustrated Kerry and reduced them to kicking from distance early on but the Kingdom's efforts were so accurate they thrived nonetheless. Barry O'Sullivan and man of the match Micheal Burns kicked some fine long range points.
Kerry led 0-8 to 0-6 at half-time and back to back points from Jordan Kiely and O'Sullivan doubled their advantage.
Still, Donegal had to come from behind to overcome Dublin so didn't give up hope. The game took a decisive turn for them, however, in the 44th minute.
They were three behind when Brennan bore down on goal and released a great shot that rattled the woodwork and went wide. From the resulting kick-out, sub Liam Carey pointed for Kerry.
From potentially drawing the game, Donegal found themselves four down, 0-12 to 0-8. With 10 minutes to go, Kerry led by six.
True to their gargantuan spirit, however, Donegal pushed them all the way. Brennan finally got the goal he craved before a point from sub Niall Harley. Lorcan Connor added a point from a free to leave just one in it, but the victory eluded Donegal despite a brave finale as Kerry conjured the insurance scores to seal the win.
Kerry: S Ryan (0-1, 1f); T O'Sullivan (0-1), D O'Donoghue, B O Beaglaoich; B Sugrue, A Barry, C Coffey; B O'Sullivan (0-2), M O'Connor; M Burns (0-2), B Rayel, M Flaherty (0-1); K Spillane (0-5, 3f), L Kearney, T O Se (0-1). Subs: L Carey (0-2) for Coffey (29), J Kiely (0-2) for Kearney (h/t), R Wharton for Sugrue (40), S O'Sullivan for O Se (50), I Parker for Rayel (62).
Donegal: D Rodgers; D Monagle, S McMenamin, C Gillespie; E Gallagher, T McClenaghan, C Kelly; C McGonagle (0-1, 1f), M Carroll; S McBrearty (0-2), C Mulligan (0-1), E O'Donnell; J Brennan (1-1), J Campbell (0-2, 1f), L Connor (0-2, 2f). Subs: N Harley (0-1) for Kelly (36), G McBride for O'Donnell (47), C Bonner for Gallagher (51), C Diver for Harley (57).
Referee: F Kelly (Longford).