One of the most unusual aspects of the Tipperary senior hurling team for the 1989 All-Ireland final was the inclusion of three brothers, Cormac, Colm and Conal Bonnar from the Cashel King Cormac's club. Con Houlihan had this to say about them in his 'Evening Press" column of September 4:
"Bobby Roche, M.P. for Tralee in Grattan's Parliament, was a dab hand at the Kerryman joke - now read on.
Once upon a time - perhaps even twice - he said: "Nobody can be in two places at the one time unless he be a bird." A stranger in Croke Park yesterday might have thought that for once the good man was wrong. Hardly a minute went by without such shouts as "Come on Bonnar" and "Good man Bonnar" and "Good on you Bonnar".
Our stranger would have wondered how this man Bonnar could be in defence and in midfield and in attack. The team sheet would have solved the puzzle: there were three Bonnars - and they all played well. I have yet to see a tiger hurl but I doubt if any member of the species could have done as well as Conal did at right half-back. In the first fifteen minutes when Tipperary were obviously stricken with tension, he was the man who played as if he knew that this would be his day.
In midfield Colm played solidly all through, producing the quartz from which his comrades up in front distilled the gold. The third brother, full-forward Cormac, didn't get on the scorers' list - but his presence gave great room to corner-forwards Pat Fox and Nicholas English."
By winning the All-Ireland, the Bonnars joined the ranks of other illustrious hurling families from Tipperary, the Leahys of Tubberadora, the Kennys of Borrisileigh and the Ryans of MoycarkeyBorris. But they also joined an exclusive club confined to those who played in and won All-Irelands on the same day. In this distinguished company they stand shoulder to shoulder with the Rackards of Wexford, who set up the club in 1956, and the Connollys of Galway, who joined it in 1980.
The brothers have another, and most unusual distinction to their credit: the oldest, Cormac, and the youngest, Conal, were the oldest and youngest member respectively of the Tipperary team on September 3.
For the oldest of the brothers, winning the All-Ireland was an unexpected bonus to a distinguished career in hurling. It was unexpected in that he had decided to quit after the 1988 west championship. The decision was taken, not because he was tired of hurling, but because of the travelling involved. Living in Limerick with his wife, Nesta, a native of Mitchelstown and with no hurling connection, the 72 mile round trip to Cashel for training and matches had become a drag. So, at the end of the 1987 championship he made a decision to go at the end of 1988.
The rest is history now. Cashel played Clonoulty in the first round of the west in 1988 and, against all the predictions, beat them and went all the way to the county semi-final. Cormac impressed the county selectors and was called up for the Munster final against Cork. Tipperary led by 1-13 to 0-5 at the interval but Cork had rallied and reduced the lead to two points in the third quarter. Cormac was introduced and was in the right place five minutes later when a Paul Delaney free dropped behind the Cork defence and he was on the spot to steer it to the net. It was a crucial score and halted the Cork rally in its tracks.
Was he excited about being introduced in that game? "Well, I was more philosophical than anything else. You see I had come on before in the championship and the memory was an unhappy one. In 1983 I had played in the league and had impressed enough to be drafted on to the panel for the championship. I was brought in sometime during the game but was replaced again after ten minutes. I wasn't playing well. Part of my difficulty was converting from a back to a forward, and I hadn't yet adjusted. But, to be replaced so quickly was extremely difficult to take and the memory crossed my mind when I came on in '88".
But he wasn't replaced and came on in the All-Ireland semi-final and final. He became a regular during the league campaign and impressed in the final against Galway last April. It took a while for the selectors to recognise that he was the obvious choice for the full-forward berth and the perfect complement to Fox and English on the inside line.
Mention of adjusting brings to mind Cormac's earlier career which was always in the back line. There he won two Under21 All-Ireland medals in 1979 and 1980. However, the winning medals he cherishes most are those he won at the minor level. He played minor with Cashel in 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977, winning west medals in the first three years and county championships in '75 and '76. The latter year has abiding memoryies for him. As well as a county minor medal he won a football medal as well and his school, Cashel C.B.S. won the Corn Phadraig, the Kinane and the Croke cups.
Looking back to those days, in an interview in May 1980, he had this to say:
"We had exceptional teams and we won too easily. We were also too clean. We never had to mix it physically. Some of us are only now learning to use our bodies. '
Some of Cormac's critics would claim that he never did learn to use his fine physique (6'2" x 14 stone) sufficiently and that he remains a gentle giant on the field. Cormac would disagree and so would many a backman who came up against him in full flight.
A more common observation made of the player is that he lacks confidence and that he is inclined to pass on scoring opportunities to players with inferior chances to his own. "It may have been the case in the past, "he replies, "but it's no longer so. I have developed my skills greatly in the past twelve months. I must thank John Leamy a lot for that. He has come out regularly with me in Limerick to practice. I now have much greater confidence in my ability and I do take my chances. But I would consider myself a team player. I don't give a damn who gets the score as long as it's registered for us on the scoreboard. I'm a bit of a socialist in hurling in that we must be all for one and one for all."
In putting emphasis on the Indian summer of Cormac's career, and it can be a long summer with few if any contenders for the full-forward position he has made so much his own in the past year, one is inclined to forget his many earlier achievements. As well as those mentioned above he won Fitzgibbon Cup medals in 1977 and 1978. But he also played on the Sigerson Cup team with U.C.D. where he studied History and Mathematics. He played county minor hurling in 1977 and was on the Under-21 county football team for three years. He also played county senior football.
All in all then a career chockful of athletic accomplishments and with no sight of it coming to an end. If the journeys to Cashel were long in the past those to Thurles are longer. For the AIl-Ireland this year there were 43 sessions of an hour and a half under Philip Conway and Cormac missed only one of them. His dedication to fitness is complete. Who will forget the turn of speed he showed in the first game of the year at Clonmel last January! Some believe he wouldn't have it on the harder ground of summer but he had and plenty to spare over other players. And, as he adjusted in the past from a back to a forward, we can anticipate similar adjustment in the future if the hand pass goal is voted out of existence next Easter.
When Cork beat Tipperary in the league game at Thurles on October 29 it was the first time Colm Bonnar experienced defeat at the hands of the Rebel County. Since he first wore the county colours in 1982 as a minor he has been on successful county teams against teams from Munster, with one exception, the senior Munster championship game against Clare at Ennis in 1986.
He has an extraordinary record. He's been playing with the county for eight years and he has eight Munster medals to his credit! The record is as follows: minor - 1982; under-21 - 1983, 1984, 1985; junior - 1985; senior - 1987, 1988, 1989. So, 1986 is the only blot in a very impressive sequence of victories. That defeat in Ennis in 1986 led to a re-think in the method of preparing county teams and the appointment of Babs, Theo and Donie to take charge.
During the same period Colm played in seven All-Irelands, winning in 1982, under21 in 1985 and 1989. The losses were in 1983 and 1984, junior in 1985 and senior in 1988. In retrospect, the most galling of these has to be the loss of the junior All-Ireland in 1985. Playing against the breeze in the first half against Wexford at Kilkenny they led by two points at half- time and seemed set for victory but they changed their tactics in the second half and were behind two points at the final whistle. The chances of Colm ever getting so near an All-Ireland junior medal in the future are indeed slim and the possession of one would have given him a unique collection.
These eight years with the county were preceded with intensive involvement in games at Cashel C.B.S. During his stint there he won Croke, Fitzgerald and McGabhann Cup medals but pride of place must go to his two All-Ireland '8' hurling medals. These were won in 1980 and 1982 and John Kennedy also won both. Joe Hayes played on the 1980 team and John Leamy on the 1982. So all of these lads learnt success at an early age.
Up to the age of thirteen Colm played left hand over right and, on the instructions of his coach changed over to the orthodox way. Close observers of his game will notice how he sometimes fumbles catching the ball because his best catching hand is still his right. Even still he occasionally catches the ball in his right hand and has then to transfer it to his left.
This difficulty may account for another anomaly in his play, his delivery of the ball. It is never as crip and as long as one would expect from a player of his strength. The thought arises if the change were well-advised and if reversion to this original style were possible.
During the past summer there was an opinion abroad that Colm had gone stale and that his game was suffering as a result. He would disagree and claims that Phll Conway worked wonders with the team, getting them mentally prepared for the game so that they would all be well able to last the seventy minutes.
However, the nature of Colm's occupation may be a contributory factor. A P.E. instructor with Waterford R.T.C. he is full-time involved with hurling, football and camogie. For five days a week he works with teams until seven o'clock in the evening and always has a hurley in his hand. This kind of involvement can kill some of the enthusiasm for getting out to hurl oneself
Colm's contribution to Tipperary hurling has been tremendous. In the past three years he has been an important link in the chain of success. He holds a record for 33 successive appearances in league and championship over a thirty-month period and the highlight of that run must have been the 'Man of the Match Award~ for the 1988 Munster final. Such a contribution is a tribute to the fitness of the man and his hurling ability and was properly recognised when he became one of the 1988 All-Star!;. The fact that he is still only twenty-five years of age must give us reason to believe that he will continue to be a force in Tipperary and Cashel hurling for many years to come.
One might be inclined to regard Conal as the Banjamin of the bunch but that would suggest someone in need of care and protection. Such would, indeed be furthest from the truth, because Conal is very much his own man and has an impressive record of achievements for one who celebrated his twentieth birthday on October 13.
Conal was drafted into the Tipperary senior panel for the 1988 AlI-Ireland. The event attracted plenty of attention because he became a third Bonnar on the panel and, to be drafted in at that stage of the championship was an indication of the potential of the player.
Conal first hit the county headlines in 1986 when he was picked wing-back for the minors. With five of the previous year's panel Tipperary were expected to do well and fulfilled that expectation in defeating Clare. The Munster final was in Killarney and ended in a draw and Conal had to experience the pangs of defeat to Cork in the replay in Kilmallock eleven days later. Playing at centreback in 1987, Conal experienced similar agony at the ultimate stage. The Munster championship was won with victories over Limerick and Cork, the AII-Ireland semi-final impressively against Galway, and hopes were high against Offaly in the All-Ireland. But, defeat was his lot by two points.
Conal came on the county minor team following an impressive career at Cashel CB.S. during which time he won two Croke Cup medals, two Fitzgerald, one McGabhann and he captained the Kinane Cup team to victory in 1986. He was also captain of the Cashel King Cormac's minor team which won the west in 1987
A third year commerce student at U.C.D. he travels to Thurles during the week to train with the team. On such a day he will leave Belfield at 3 p.m. and cycle home to his flat in Ranelagh. He collects his gear and travels over by bus to Bab's place in Castleknock for the trip to Thurles. After an hour and a half training he returns to Dublin.
After being on the losing side in 1987 and 1988, Colm eventually struck gold on September 3 this year. Playing at wingback he performed impressvely and seems a natural in that position. On the following Sunday at Portlaoise he hit the jackpot a second time when winning an under-21 medal. Both victories helped to erase the memories of the 1987 and 1988 defeats.
Conal is modest about his achievements. He considers he got a number of lucky breaks which gave him opportunities he exploited to the fullest extent. But observers give him more than luck. He impressed them with his anticipation on the field, his burst of speed and his expert delivery. In a very short intercounty career he has impressed many, who see a long and brilliant future ahead for him.
Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 1990, pp 18-19