Cooper fears Kerry could be left behind
COLM COOPER sees the landscape of Gaelic football changing and has warned Kerry they will be left behind if they don't improve for 2012.
Despite their three defeats across league and championship this campaign coming by just a single point (to Dublin in the league and All- Ireland final and Cork in the league), the Dr Crokes man has seen new threats to the Kingdom's recent dominance emerge.
"We will have to be better if we want to be talking about top honours because Dublin will be able to lift the bar again and Cork will come back," said Cooper at the launch of the All-Ireland club championships in Faughs GAA club in Templeogue, Dublin.
"The Kildares, Donegals, Mayos, they all seem to be getting better. If we stand still we will be passed out again."
Cooper's focus has shifted to the club championship campaign, which is sponsored by his employers AIB, but he admitted that Kerry made errors they "never usually would" in the closing stages of the All Ireland final.
"I can't ever think of a game where we were four or five points up with six minutes to go and weren't able to close out the game. Usually that's probably one of our stronger points. It's just disappointing. We've done it so many times in the past and we knew we were capable of doing it," he said.
And while Cooper expects Jack O'Connor to remain at the helm, there will be speculation as to whether the Kerry panel will return en masse for another campaign, with a number of the squad, including Cooper's clubmate Eoin Brosnan, considering their future with the Kingdom.
"(Brosnan) contributed a lot to us and at different times he has been very strong in games," said Cooper. "I talked to him and we were both disappointed. You'd be having a couple of pints and saying 'Jesus it's a pity it finished on a sour note.' But I wouldn't ask him 'are you back next year?'
"He has a family and different things to think about and he will make up his mind in plenty of time. He along with others will have plenty to think about over the next few weeks and we feel they don't owe us anything, so they can make up their own mind."
Cooper pointed to the emergence of Bryan Sheehan and Darran O'Sullivan as leaders and the new faces as reasons why the Kingdom can be optimistic about next year.
"They certainly stepped up in terms of responsibility. The fact of the matter is that they have realised that they are not kids anymore," he said.
"They have been involved in squads and winning teams and losing teams for the last (few years). I am there since 2002, I'd say Bryan is there since '04 and Darran '05. Killian Young has been around for the couple of years as well. All these guys stepped up and there was a maturity about them. That was the encouraging thing.
"It won't be easy to get back to the position we were in because any time you are in an All-Ireland final you have to play well to get there. But the positive thing I am taking from it is that we have introduced new players.
"Looking at the team, it's changed around a bit, with a new midfield, a couple of new guys coming in -- Shane Enright has played, a couple of younger guys. Kieran O'Leary has come in at different stages, so you've introduced a lot of players and lost an All-Ireland by a point.
"If you look at it from that point of view it's not completely all doom and gloom either. It's just sport, you win and you lose sometimes, get on from it and learn from it."