JOHNNY Bonner believes allegiances will be divided in his hometown of Buncrana tonight as Derry City host their Donegal rivals at a sold-out Maginn Park. (Kick-off 7.45 p.m.)
It’s a fixture the 25 year-old Finn Harps midfielder had ring-fenced at the start of the season, and while it takes place on his doorstep, the Inishowen man isn’t expecting any home comforts.
A former Derry City ‘A’ Championship’ player as a teenager, he reckons most of the support will be decked out in the red and white of Derry City, but he’s had plenty of ticket requests from Harps fans and his close family and friends.
“Anyone who is interested in League of Ireland football in Buncrana would follow Derry anyway,” said Bonner. “To play in the derby, it’s the first match you look out for as Finn Harps player but especially as it’s in Buncrana, I’m especially looking forward to that.”
The attraction of League of Ireland football has brought a real buzz to the seaside town and Bonner admits even his father has been attending matches at Maginn Park when Harps were on the road.
“It’s definitely helped the town. There’s a great buzz around and everyone is talking about it. They’re interested in Harps as well and are looking at the league watching Derry play every week and wondering how Harps are doing too.
Everyone is trying to get tickets, I’ve been getting phone calls and it’s been a struggle to get people sorted.Johnny Bonner
“The interest is definitely a lot bigger this year. It’s worked out well for Buncrana people. The likes of my dad and my friends would go watch Derry and then when we’re away they would come and see us.
“Nearly everybody in Buncrana would be more Derry City than Harps. Derry is a lot closer, it’s only 20 minutes away.”
Bonner’s first ever League of Ireland experience was at a Harps match but the former Wexford Youths man was a regular spectator at Brandywell in recent years. Although now fully committed to Harps, the midfielder is quite happy to see both teams doing well in the top flight.
“My first ever League of Ireland game was a Finn Harps match but I signed for Derry when I was 16, everyone in Buncrana at that time was thinking if you were good, maybe you’d get a chance to play for Derry. That’s what you wanted to do. I would have went to nearly every Derry match then and started following them.
“I’ve always followed them,” he admitted. “But I would never have been, ‘I support Derry and hate Harps’. I like to see the two clubs doing well no matter what. And it’s great that both are in the division.
“I remember when I was playing ‘A’ Championship with John Quigg. If you didn’t make it into the Derry first team he still wanted you to move on to Harps or Coleraine or Institute. Their goal is to keep you playing senior football. So I’m sure it’s good for them seeing players they coached playing senior football.
“I’d say the majority at the match will be Derry fans but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s Harps fans in amongst the Derry support. Everyone is trying to get tickets, I’ve been getting phone calls and it’s been a struggle to get people sorted.
“All the Buncrana ones will have been watching Derry from the start of the season so I’m sure the majority of support will be there for Derry.”
As for the game itself, both teams go into it after two straight league defeats and Bonner reckons Harps will need to battle to get anything out of the match.
“The pitch is good and everyone is looking forward to playing it. It’s a derby and everyone is buzzing but there’s no doubt in our minds how hard it’s going to be. It’s going to be an absolute battle to get anything out of this so we’ll have to fight the whole match.
“They’re wounded as well and Kenny Shiels will be trying to get a reaction out of them. It will be a tough match.”