Blue eyed boy – Naomh Conaill’s Oisín Bonner

By Michael McMullan

MONDAY, September 24, 2012 was the start of two journeys in Crumlin’s Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children.

As All-Ireland Sunday stepped into a new week, Donegal’s heroes were taking Sam back to the hills.

For seven-week old Oisín Bonner, his journey was different. He needed a helping hand early in life. He came into the world eight and-a-half weeks early and now, as a thriving 10 year-old, he has brought down the curtain on his u-11 season with his beloved Naomh Conaill.

A nephew of recent club centurion and Donegal All-Ireland winner Marty Boyle, Oisín is a fanatic from a generation in Glenties that know nothing only county final day and the quest to get hands on the Dr Maguire Cup.

He spent four or five weeks in the neonatal unit of Letterkenny Hospital before being sent to Dublin for an operation on the third Monday in September.

When Jim McGuiness sent Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy across the Croke Park whitewash, he was the third Glenties player after Anthony Thompson and Leo McLoone to feature against Mayo on Gaelic football’s biggest Sunday.

Later that night, when Caroline Bonner left the Burlington Hotel to get her son Oisín packed up for his operation, the banquet was in full swing.

As is customary, a mini-bus of All-Ireland winners nosed towards Crumlin the next morning to give all the young kids a glance at Sam Maguire.

“The hospital staff looked at their files; saw we were from Glenties …it all happened so fast,” Caroline recalls.

Married to Eamonn Bonner, an Ardara man now indoctrinated into the blue of Naomh Conaill, they have an older daughter Erin.

It was fitting McGuinness had Molloy and McLoone on board. Jim and team doctor Charlie McManus enquired if Oisín was up to having his photo with the most cherished piece of footballing silver in the land, something he has grown to fully appreciate the significance of.

FAMILY TIME…Oisín, Erin, their uncle Marty and Granny Gracie Boyle

“Winning Sam, it was big for the county, but it was significant with the (Glenties) boys playing,” Caroline added.

“Oisín’s surgery wasn’t that serious and we were out in a few days. He has been in hospital once since from Bronchiolitis and there have been no follow ups at all.”

He hasn’t looked back and is above average height for his age. With uncle Marty encouraging him down to Naomh Conaill underage months after this third birthday, football is a cornerstone of his life.

“He was down playing with the u-6s and u-7s…he hadn’t a clue what he was doing,” Caroline laughed with pride of how her son came full circle and poured himself into football.

On the tenth anniversary of Donegal’s win, Naomh Conaill hosted their development draw and club official Michael Quinn pointed the Bonners in the direction of re-enacting Oisín’s photo with Leo and ‘Brick’ and it generated great interest on the club’s social media channels.

“The (original) photo was always there in the back of my head, that it would be great for him when he grows up,” Caroline added.

“He didn’t have a clue about anything in 2012, but he loves the whole thing and loved going in to get the picture taken with the two boys now.

“Oisín has been down at the field and tipping about from he was seven or eight and is more aware of it…he sees what it’s all about now.”

After Glenties games, he’d insist on a phone call with his uncle Marty. The game would be stripped down and put back together, with the views coming both ways.

Sunday will be the club’s seventh in eight seasons. Oisin was three years of age when Johnny McLoone and Aaron Thompson hit late points in a narrow win over Sunday’s opponents St Eunan’s in the 2005 decider with a 16 year-old Leo McLoone on board.

GLENTIES MEN…Dermot Molly, Oisín Bonner and Leo McLoone 10 years on from their photo with Sam Maguire in 2012

“We remember the bad days,” Caroline said. “But they (Oisín’s generation) think there is nothing like Naomh Conaill and that there is never a bad day, they know nothing else.

“The last 10 or 15 years has been good for them and that’s been great for the underage coming up because they aspire to be like these guys.”

There is a greater excitement this season. Momentum has been Glenties’ friend as they navigated their way to the senior, reserves and thirds finals, bringing a buzz to old and young alike.

“It is great to be back there again…we all grew up with it,” Caroline said. “Oisín’s a huge fan of Leo McLoone and is coached by his brother Sean with in the u-11s and he’d get Leo in a few times to give the young players a few pointers.”

If manager Martin Regan sends Marty Boyle in to help wrestle the cup from St Eunan’s hands on Sunday, it will be his 101st championship outing in blue.

Leo McLoone and ‘Brick’ will have their shoulders to the wheel too. For Oisín Bonner, he’ll be buzzing and dreaming of the day he gets to play in a county final.

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