Cooper now among the greatest
Published 23/08/2011 | 05:00
Back in early November 2009 the Irish Independent carried a feature listing what it deemed the 125 greatest Gaelic footballers of all time.
Naturally, such an exercise is a very subjective one. It's not an exact science in any way and is dependent on the opinions of those who compiled the list and those who were sounded out.
The soundings gathered were extensive and the stock of both the 'Team of the Century' and 'Team of the Millennium' was valued highly in deliberations.
Jack O'Shea was deemed by the contributors to be the No 1 footballer of all time and in the swell of letters and emails that landed in the following weeks, mostly to contest rankings and omissions, there was very little dispute, if any, with O'Shea's placement.
At No 20 was Colm Cooper, at the time the 10th Kerryman on our list behind O'Shea, Mick O'Connell, Pat Spillane, Mike Sheehy, Seamus Moynihan, Mick O'Dwyer, Dan O'Keeffe (legendary goalkeeper), John O'Keeffe and Eoin Liston.
It was exalted company to be keeping for a player with just eight seasons behind him. The citation reads:
"The measure of Cooper is as much how he has played in All-Ireland finals that Kerry have lost to Tyrone as those he has played in and won. Four All-Ireland medals, five All Stars and he's still only 27."
Almost two years on from that ranking and just 24 hours after another magnificent display, it's an appropriate time to take stock of where 'Gooch' might rank now among the greatest to have ever played the game.
There was no shortage of glowing tributes on the back of his 1-7 against Mayo and his direct involvement in at least 13 of the 21 Kerry scores and Sheehy -- for some the greatest ever Kerry forward -- has no hesitation in saying that Gooch is the best footballer he has ever seen.
A player's value will always be inflated that bit more so soon after a display like last Sunday's so care has to be exercised but in Sheehy's case it's an opinion he has held for some time now, especially on the back of last season.
"I said it long before Sunday's game. He's just an incredible footballer with no weaknesses, the greatest to have played the game, in my opinion," said Sheehy, who would elevate Cooper above any of his own contemporaries from the 1970s and '80s.
Is that the universal view within the game now, after a sixth All Star was secured in 2010 and with another one potentially coming to him this year?
In this writer's opinion, Cooper's All Star in 2010, an award that took him level with O'Shea, Peter Canavan and Ger Power and just one behind Sheehy and two behind Spillane, in addition to his performance on Sunday, should elevate him to a much higher position if a new top 125 was being compiled.
Yes, comparisons are difficult and nobody has the unique insight to, and memory of, every player to have played the game. But you can go on what you know and what you feel and source opinions like Sheehy's.
But is there anyone who would now dispute that Cooper has moved comfortably into the top 10 greatest ever players? Does he not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Sheehy, Matt Connor and Canavan?
After a fallow couple of months that saw him play more peripheral roles against Cork and Limerick and score just five points over both games, Gooch came storming back with a display that ranks right up there with some of the best he has ever produced at Croke Park or any other venue.
But that's the thing about him. He rarely has anything less than a spectacular day at Croke Park and prior to the All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Limerick, his previous two performances there, against Dublin in the league last February and against Down in the All-Ireland quarter-final in July 2010, were among his finest.
Think back to that night of the league match and his scoring burst in the final 10 minutes to bring Kerry back from four points down to parity before Bernard Brogan's late winner. Or the two passes to Kieran Donaghy that only he saw and that only Donaghy picked up on that drew saves from Brendan McVeigh that effectively put the Down goalkeeper on the path to an All Star.
Without question, there have been few, if any, more skillful players to have played the game. Gooch does things with the ball and sees options that no other has the vision to execute.
Long-time Kerry football observer and eminent broadcaster Weeshie Fogarty stops short of Sheehy's assessment but now places Cooper in the top three Kerry forwards he has ever seen, right up there behind Sheehy.
"To me it is impossible to make comparisons with a player like Jack O'Shea and Colm Cooper. Jacko was the greatest goalscoring midfielder of all time but would he have made a corner-forward like Colm? Of course he wouldn't," said Fogarty.
"Colm is now up there with Mike Sheehy and Maurice Fitzgerald but I'd rather reserve judgment and wait till his career is over to assess who was best. There's a lot more to come from Colm."
The question now is if Cooper, now in his 10th season as a senior, can keep climbing the ranks and become the unanimously acclaimed greatest? Another afternoon like last Sunday against either Dublin or Donegal would help that case considerably.
Or maybe just check out on YouTube (tinyurl.com/6d6rtzr) his goal against Gneeveguilla in the Kerry county championship in June, when he sold dummies to two opponents and popped a goal with his right foot that makes Gaelic football look like the easiest game on earth.
Perhaps then Sheehy's assertion will carry even more resonance after that five seconds of magic.