Cooney's second chance
THE class of new senior football managers for 2012 has only five members -- and one of them is the recently appointed Offaly team boss Gerry Cooney.
Tullamore-born Cooney, who lives and works in Dublin, joins Peter Canavan (Fermanagh), Des Newton (Roscommon), Alan Mulholland (Galway) and Harry Murphy (Wicklow) as the latest to join the managerial ranks.
Each man has to mark time to a certain extent, due to the ban on collective training through the months of November and December.
They must wait until January 8, when the respective early-season provincial warm-up competitions get under way, to see their new teams in action, but meanwhile, they are assembling panels and back-room teams, organising fitness assessments and getting players to do their individual pre-season gym work.
For Cooney, the job as senior manager is one that is a logical progression on his GAA CV, as he has previously held the Meath minor and U-21 positions and was an Offaly selector for two years when Kevin Kilmurray was in charge in 2005 and '06.
As a player he won five Meath championship medals, two Leinster club medals, and played in two All-Ireland club finals, all with Walterstown.
He also played inter-county football with Meath, and was a member of the Royal County's 1987 and 1988 All-Ireland-winning squads.
Cooney is also proud of his link with the St Peter's Dunboyne club, as he managed them to their first Meath senior football championship in 1998.
The day job is one with a difference -- he is a senior counsellor at the Rutland Centre in Dublin, where he has worked since 1994. Addiction and its effects on society, particularly in relation to alcohol, came under the microscope only recently when the GAA announced its 'Off the Booze and On the Ball' initiative at Croke Park.
Essentially, the challenge invites participants to abstain from alcohol for the month of January and, in doing so, to seek sponsorship to go towards their local GAA club.
Participants are also encouraged to engage in some new exercises that help them reach their recommended weekly activity levels during the month, and hopefully, throughout 2012.
All very worthy indeed, and the scheme is indicative of the concern the GAA and government bodies have about the effects of alcohol and drugs, particularly on young people.
Cooney has seen it all in his work, and I wondered if and how his experience and skills could translate into working with footballers?
"The Rutland is an amazing place to work, great people, great staff, very committed, very dedicated. There are always stories of hope, of people changing their lives. I've good friends who are in recovery and keep in touch with them.
"Part of the job is assessing people's motivation for change, motivating them to change their lives, and getting the best out of them, being part of a community, so there are some skills I suppose that might be helpful in terms of football.
"You're motivating people to change but also you're encouraging people to reach their potential in life, and that's one of the things that we'd want, which is to help players reach their potential," he explains.
Only time will tell how Cooney is to be judged as Offaly manager, but he got some stick from retiring veteran Ciaran McManus, who criticised the lengthy county board procedures for replacing Tom Cribbin.
McManus also suggested he would have favoured local stalwarts Stephen Darby or Tom Coffey, or even Dublin's Jack Sheedy for the manager's job.
Cooney has no intention of engaging in any debate on the subject, but says: "Ciaran McManus announced his retirement and was a terrific servant to Offaly football in the last 15 years.
"But I've had great support and encouragement from within the county and we'll be going with quite a young panel.
"It's hard to assess the prospects at this stage until the games begin. All I'm looking for is lads who want to play, who want to improve, and who want to play with the right attitude.
"When we get going in the new year, we'll be preparing and coaching, and getting ready for some big dates -- January 8 against Westmeath in the O'Byrne Cup; February 5 against Longford in the first round of the National League and we're playing Kildare on June 16 in Portlaoise in the Leinster senior football championship."
Prior to this appointment, Cooney's most recent senior team experience with Offaly was in 2006 as a selector during Kilmurray's reigin as manager.
During that season, the Faithful County beat Westmeath, Wexford and Kildare to reach the Leinster final in which they lost to Dublin.
Since then he has had some fascinating experiences.
"Marion (his wife) and myself had been planning to go on long family holiday in 2007, because our three boys (Anthony, Christopher and Gareth) were at the stage when it might have been our last family holiday together. We decided to go to Namibia, because I have family over there.
"We came across this place for sale (a holiday lodge and farm called Guest Farm Ghaub) and then made a life-changing decision and bought it with some friends.
"I spent 16 months out there, all of 2008 and part of 2009 and came home in April 2009," he explains.
While in Namibia, part of his routine each Sunday was checking the internet for local Offaly and Meath GAA results.
"I used to get the results from Meath and Offaly on the website at 10.0 on a Sunday night out in Africa, 10,000 miles away. It was great to be able to do that. Checking out Junior 'B' results and all of them. I'm sure there's guys all around the world do the same each week," he says.
On his arrival home, Cooney wrote a book about his experiences in Namibia called 'The Best Time To Plant A Tree.'
After that came a stint with Donaghmore-Ashbourne GAA club, and in 2010, following Eamonn O'Brien's controversial departure from the Meath manager's position, Cooney was asked to put himself forward.
He did so, but eventually the job went to Seamus McEnaney.
That's all in the past. For now, Cooney has a new challenge, one in which he's being assisted by former Offaly Leinster winner Jimmy Stewart of Clara and Cathal Daly from Tullamore.
Paddy Carr, ex-Kilmacud Crokes boss, will join the management team in an advisory capacity. Fitness matters are being organised by Sean Sweeney of Geashill, and Damien Maher, of BFit4Life in Dublin.