Thursday 19 October 2017

Vincent Hogan: Gooch an independent mind who will follow his own path

Colm Cooper was easy to collaborate with because he doesn't speak in a thousand tongues

Colm Cooper speaking to Vincent Hogan of the Irish Independent.
Colm Cooper speaking to Vincent Hogan of the Irish Independent.
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

We were maybe two hours into our first sit-down for 'Gooch - The Autobiography' in that tiny, terraced Ardshanavooly house of Colm Cooper's childhood when he excused himself to go training.

A Saturday lunchtime in mid-December, black gusts tossing flecks of sleet - loud as pebbles - against the kitchen window panes. On the table sat a print-out of Dr Crokes' training schedule for the month, identifying 16 sessions in a pocket of 21 days. Penal arithmetic for a 33-year-old.

"Back soon," he smiled, dipping out the door for Lewis Road, kit-bag over the shoulder.

In my head, the story of Gooch and Kerry was far from over. I presumed he'd play on into 2017 and later, over dinner in Foleys, that would be the prism through which I questioned the load now being placed on an ageing body.

"How, logically, can you hope to be flying for Kerry next August or September when you're doing what you're doing now?" I asked.

His answer was succinct. "I can't!" he told me.

Colm Cooper's life in football has spawned such an ocean of assumptions, it was only natural to believe that his sorcery would out-live the conventional limits of human physiology.

I was prone to most of those assumptions, never having even spoken to the man prior to being approached a couple of years back to write his story.

Prime among them was a belief that men and women of his ilk, the implausibly gifted in other words, live largely for the Hollywood days, the mountainous crowds, the TV moments. But at home in Killarney last December, Colm Cooper's only interest was his club. And if the pursuit of their Holy Grail (the Andy Merrigan Cup) eventually ransacked all that was left in his body, so be it.

"This might sound all wrong," he told me, "but right now I don't give a f**k about Kerry. I can't afford to. I owe it to Crokes to give them everything I've got."

By the time he got his hands on that trophy last St Patrick's Day, Gooch realised his inter-county career was over. The journey to Croke Park had asked things of him physically that, deep down, he knew were beginning to feel unreasonable. And the idea of immediately re-calibrating for another summer dance with Kerry had become unsustainable.

Gooch's candour would be the first thing that surprised me during our meetings. The way he spoke with an independent edge. His aversion, if you like, to the 'yerrah' cliche. The mistrust of bullshit.

With his inter-county retirement announced in April, I remember asking him if the decision had maybe spawned any internal bouts of panic. He was adamant that it hadn't.

"During my career, I've been very sure about everything that I've been doing," he told me. "How I play. Prepare. Where my temperament is at for big matches.

"I think I've been very good at managing those things. I've never asked people for help with that. I've been self-coached and self-skilled to a large extent. Never used a sports psychologist.

"Fellas would probably say I'm extremely stubborn. If I think something, I tend to f*****g stick to it and carry it out."

Through the pages of his autobiography, that inner strength offers an often bracing perspective on one of the greatest careers of the modern game. On occasion, I wondered if seeing the starkness of those words in print might trigger circumspection and, as a consequence, some diplomatic softening of the narrative.

But six months of working with Colm Cooper educated me on much of what it was that made him such an iconic sportsman. Beneath the elegance and innate grace of a sublime footballer resided the very warrior steel that would, inevitably, escape the attention of those dipping in and out of his story on a strictly superficial level.

He was easy to collaborate with because he isn't the kind to speak in a thousand tongues.

You don't necessarily get to know somebody through writing their book. But you do get a deep sense of their principles and values. Cooper's love of the GAA is heart-felt and self-explanatory, but it isn't a blind love. There are sides to it he finds hard to reconcile with any sense of fairness or equality.

He recognised there would be a fall-out to the announcement of next month's testimonial dinner and has been dealing with that noise in the knowledge that other big-name players will, in time, inevitably, follow the same path.

He sees a multiple of contradictions in the lives of inter-county men today, recognising how almost all of those contradictions favour those born in certain counties.

But he isn't holding himself up as a patron saint for the game here. He never has done. Maybe the essence of Colm Cooper is that he has always had the courage to follow his own path.

'Gooch - The Autobiography' doesn't deviate from it.

Irish Independent

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