For the oldest of the Bonnar brothers, winning the 1989 All-Ireland was an unexpected bonus to a distinguished career in hurling. It was unexpected in that Cormac 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 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-Rossmore in the first round of the west championship 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 it halted the Cork rally in its tracks.
Born in Cashel in May 1959 Cormac went to National School, The Green before going into second class in the CBS, where Brother Noonan ran school leagues. He was already very athletic in those early years and recalls races before school around the triangle in Lowergate. Also, jogging to and from horne to the Green. He went most of the way through secondary school without winning anything. Cashel were beaten regularly by Templemore CB.S. It wasn't until 1976 when he was doing the Leaving Certificate that success came. In that year Corn Phadraig, Kinane Cup and Fitzgerald Cup were won. Cormac repeated the Leaving in 1977 and played Harty Cup. As a result of victory in the Corn Phadraig Cashel went into the A competition in hurling but were beaten by Farrenferris at Bansha.
Cormac had no underage success with the club and had to wait until minor level. There was impressive success at this level. He was on the successful I team that won the historic county hurling and football double in 1974. The county hurling was won in 1975 and the two county finals were lost to Loughmore- Castleiney in 1976. His tally of medals is impressive five west and three county. He was selected at wing- back on the county minors in 1977, beaten 3-4 to 1-1 Clare in the first round of the Munster champions!
Fitzgibbon and Sigerson
One of the people who had impressed Cormac at Cashel CB.S. was Brother Michael O'Grady. He introduced coaching in a big way and when Cormac went to UCD. at the end of 1977, Br. O'Grady moved there also and continued to be a major influence on him. He spent five years at U.CD. studying History Mathematics. In 1978 he was on the successful Freshers team, which won the championship league. He was also on the panel for the Fitzgibboni which was won. In 1979 he won a second Fitzgibbon medal. Always interested in football he gave up Fitzgibbon for the Sigerson in 1980. Even though no medal was won he has no regrets. He came accross some outstanding footballers like Colm O'Rourke and Gerry McEntee but, more importantly, he experierced coaching at its best. The man in charge was Eugene Magee and they trained or played a match five nights a week. They were a totally committed bunch of players and Cormac's memories of the year are extremely favourable. In 1981 he returned to Fitzgibbon without success. The year saw the beginning of: U.C.C's eight in a row.· He made the Combined Hurling team the same year and won. In his final year, 1982, he was captain of the Fitzgibbon team, beaten in the semi-final by U.C.G. Also, in conjunction with Eamon O'Shea, he coached the UCD. camogie tea success in the Ashbourne Cup.
During his time at U.CD. Cormac was very involved with the county. For three years he played on the county under-21 football team, captaining it in 1979. He also played senior football. Whereas football brought no success hurling did. In 1979 he was on the successful under-21 panel and in 1980 he played corner-back, moving to full-back for the final, when P. J. Maxwell was injured. Pat Fox was corner-back on the team.
At club level he won a west under-21 hurling medal in 1976 and a football medal in 1980. He made his debut with Cashel senior hurlers in 1976 and was on the panel that won the west championship. His next medal came in 1980 when he, and his brother Brendan, played centrefield. There followed the lean years. During this time Cormac changed from a back to a forward. There was a shortage of players on the Cashel team up the field and he moved out of the backs, into' centre field and eventually into the forward line. Success came again in 1988 and it was only halted by Borrisoleigh in the county semi-final. Early defeat came in 1989.
Cormac captained the team in 1990 and regarded it as a great privilege. The team fulfilled the promise of 1988 and went all the way to the county final only to lose to Holycross-Ballycahill. The success denied came the following year when Cashel made history in winning their first county senior hurling title. This was followed up by victory over Midleton in the Munster club final before agonising defeat by Kiltormer after three games in the All-Ireland semi-final. Another divisional medal was won in 1993 bringing his tally to six. He retired from senior hurling in that year. Because of his interest in football he recalls with great satisfaction winning a west senior football medal with the club in 1990.
Cormac's drafting into the county senior panel in 1988 wasn't his first time wearing the senior jersey. He had made his first appearance in a tournament game gainst Kilkenny at Thurles on May 10. He didn't make the championship panel but played in the league at the end of the year. He pulled out during 1982 because of examination commitments and returned for the league in the autumn. He was a sub on the chamionship team in 1983. He recalls the occasion: '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 o quickly was extremely difficult to take and the memory crossed my mind when I came on in 1988.' Disillusioned but also injured he didn't take part in the league and he was in the U.S. for the summer of 1984. It appeared as if his inter-county life was at an end.
When he was asked to return in 1988 he thought twice before accepting the invitation which came from Theo English. After the Munster final Cormac was a fixture n the panel and came on as a sub against Antrim and Galway in the remaining two matches. Nicky English was at full-forward during the year and Cormac came on in the half-forward line. For the league of 1988-89 he was at full-forward and for the league final defeat by Galway his corner-forwards were Michael Cleary and Pat McGrath. By the Munster final of 1989 they had been replaced by Pat Fox and Nicky English to form the most impressive full-forward line in the modern game.
Cormac was to continue playing for Tipperary until after the league in 1993. He retired before the championship that year. As well as winning the All-Irelands in 1989 and 1991, he was to win two All-Stars in the same years. He missed out on the Munster final victory in 1993.
As already mentioned Cormac was greatly influenced by Brother O'Grady and his emphasis on coaching. He became interested in the area himself. As early as 1980 he was involved in the coaching of the Cashel minor team that won the county final. As also mentioned he coached the camogie players at U.C.D. Later he coached a wide variety of teams. They included Hospital-Herbertstown in football and hurling, Newport for two years, Clonlara, Tulla for two years, Ahane for two years, and Inagh. He also coached Ard Scoil Ris to a Kinane Cup and a Pearse Cup. Presently he is looking after the South Kerry under-I5 hurling development squad.
Although he is now 41 years old he finds it difficult to give up active involvement in the game. Now residing in Killarney he won an intermediate hurling championship with Dr. Crokes in 1997 ,and a South Kerry senior hurling championship in 1999.
Nicknamed the 'Gentle Giant' and 'The Viking' there couldn't be such contrasting opinions of the same players. The former name was gained from the observation, during the early part of his career, that Cormac, although sporting a fine physique of 6 feet 2 inches by 14 stone, remained a gentle giant on the field. Cormac would disagree and so would many a backman who came up against him in full flight. The latter name suggests someone who is wild, marauding and dangerous. Again, it's far from the mark. More likely the name came from the sight of Cormac on the field with his distinctive helmet, which gave him a fierce look.
Cormac has a long and successful hurling history. During that period his level of fitness and his general athleticism were outstanding. His commitment to his team was always one hundred percent. His versatility on the field of play is reflected in the wide variety of positions he played in. During his greatest period, the five years he played at full-forward on the county senior team, he was a key man in the team's success. He was a target man for the rest of the forward line. He showed the need for big men in any forward land to make space for those less well-endowed and to distribute the ball. Cormac did these things excellently well and other forwards lived and flourished off him. He was above all a team player. As he said on one occasion '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.' .
West Tipperary G.A.A. by J.J. Kennedy. Pub. by West Tipperary G.A.A. Board, 2001, pp 398-400