UP UNTIL the beginning of this year, Packie Bonner had no intention of ever writing an autobiography.
The Donegal man is not one for all the “nonsense” that comes with putting a book out, but he could do little to stop the media from going big on his relationship with Roy Keane last week as the final edition of ‘The Last Line’ arrived at the desks of sports writers nationwide.
Bonner’s honest, unique and wholly interesting memoirs are released for public sale on October 1, and Ireland’s legendary goalkeeper has had to do very little selling, with extracts of his thoughts on his former international team-mate having stoked up enough interest alone.
In short – Keane sells. But for Bonner, the idea of a book was never to make a bit of money or even to get a few things off his chest, it was about offering something alternative to a market he feels has been diluted by too many rushed, chronological life stories.
“I tried to write the book in more of a story kind of fashion,” he told The Irish Post. “Gerry McDade, who wrote the book with me, kept pestering me. And I suppose with it being 25 years on from the World Cup in 1990, he talked me into it. In the end I thought if I don’t do it now I’ll probably never do it.”
Bonner has bucked the trend. Instead of having to read through eight or nine chapters to get to the most notable moment in the former Celtic man’s career – the penalty shoot-out against Romania at Italia ’90 of course – Bonner dives right into the thick of it on page four.
It’s a fresh approach that is immediately captivating, and it sets the reader up nicely for the less obvious tales, opinions and anecdotes that ensue – from developing a fear of having to spend the rest of his days washing dishes among America’s underclass, to befriending Pat Spillane’s uncle in Glasgow.
Indeed, Bonner’s passion for GAA is clear throughout the entire book and it helps create a connection with Irish readers of the same interests.
But over 13 years after the infamous Saipan incident involving Keane, Mick McCarthy and the rest of the Ireland squad at the 2002 World Cup, the whole affair still intrigues.
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Bonner, though, again offers something different in addition to his account of what went on in Saipan. His take on Keane’s return to the Ireland squad in 2005, which is much less documented than his departure from Ireland’s World Cup base, is a fascinating alternative tale.
Bonner was on the coaching staff during Ireland’s 2002 campaign and remained so when Brian Kerr offered Keane a route back into international football.
“I didn’t think Roy should have been given the opportunity,” he writes. “After all, he had the chance to come back before and turned it down. I have to be honest and say I seriously thought about walking away from the job, but in the end, I came to the conclusion: why should I? I was not the one who left the squad and it was never in my make-up to consider putting myself before my country.
“Roy came in for his first game back but disappeared as quickly, having picked up an injury. I went to his room just before he left but he didn’t want to talk, limiting himself to ‘we will catch up the next time’. He played in a number of other games under Brian, but we never had that chat!”
Keane not only came back to play for Ireland, but he also became part of the FAI set-up alongside Martin O’Neill in November 2013. So, does Bonner believe the O’Neill and Keane duo can ever deliver the success he enjoyed as a player under Jack Charlton?
“Qualifying is the hardest part,” he told The Irish Post. “When you qualify things become a lot easier because you’ve got time to prepare and you can relax and enjoy it and look forward to what’s in front of you.
“To do it three times in four is not easy for small countries. You need a good group of players, which we were lucky to have over that 10-year period under Jack Charlton.
“The other big thing we had was that most of us were playing regularly at a high level. Nowadays, it’s a struggle to get one of our players in the Champions League.”
To put it bluntly, that means no, so we must be content with memories of past glories. Luckily, though, ‘The Last Line’ offers a fresh take on many of them.
- Packie Bonner’s autobiography ‘The Last Line’ is available from Ebury Press from October 1