Weary Gooch looks to end year on high
THERE is just a hint of fatigue in Colm Cooper's voice.
Over the past two years, there has been one short break from football – a self-imposed exile from the game for a few short weeks after defeat to Crossmaglen in last February's All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final.
Thus, Sunday's All-Ireland quarter-final clash with London champions, Tir Chonaill Gaels, will bookend a hectic year. If anything, the pace picked up since Kerry's interest in the All-Ireland ended at the quarter-final stage.
The trip to London marks a 12th game in 12 weeks for Cooper and his Crokes team-mates. In that time, the killarney outfit secured a third county championship on the bounce and a second Munster title. There was also a seventh successive East Kerry crown to be won and league games to fulfil as well.
A win in Ruislip would allow him enjoy his Christmas.
"It would cap off a very good year for the club," said the AIB employee.
"It would mean that you've ticked all the boxes that you've set out to at the start of the year, so you would be able to sit back a small bit and recharge the batteries and go again. So, it'd be a great finish to the year if we could just get through on Sunday.
"I wouldn't mind (a rest) to be honest – mentally more than anything. Every game is a big game. If you lose you're gone. It'd be great just to give the mind and the whole lot a rest."
Results suggest the Killarney side are better than ever. They were hot favourites before their county title win over Dingle, but they took the honours with no little style.
It was a similar story in their surprisingly facile Munster final win over Cork champions Castlehaven.
In between, there was the typically stern examination from Clare's Kilmurry-Ibrickane, but Crokes look a more rounded outfit this time around.
The Gooch is as integral as ever, but Kieran O'Leary and, in particular, Brian Looney have eased some of the scoring burden on him.
"If you think back to 2007 (when they lost to Crossmaglen in the final) a lot of the guys were involved then, even Brian, who's here today, they all played, but they were only 20 years of age," Cooper continues.
"Now they're 25, 26, 27, so they've a lot of experience built up over that time and they've a lot of conditioning done. They've come on a lot in personal development.
"I definitely think we're reaching what we would consider to be the peak of our powers.
"I suppose we've learned a lot over the years winning games and losing games, so we've definitely developed as a team."
Dr Crokes were facile winners against St Brendan's on their last visit to play the London champions in 2007 but Tir Chonaill Gaels have recruited Paddy Carr – who steered Dublin Kilmacud Crokes to an All-Ireland title – as their manager.
Dr Crokes pair Shane Doolan and Michael Maloney played their football in London last year with Kingdom Kerry Gaels.
They can provide some valuable insight into Carr's side, but their return has also added a new depth to Crokes.
"They have a bit of insight into the Gaels' set-up because they would have played against them last year," adds the four-time All-Ireland winner.
"That helps, because when you're over here it's very hard to get any DVD or video work of a team in London, so they probably know a lot more about us than we do about them.
"We always felt that we had a good team, but we didn't have strength in depth in areas that we would have liked.
"They (Doolan and Maloney) definitely have provided that, even through the Kerry championship, we've missed guys in certain games, but fellas have come in and done a job, whereas maybe 12 months or 24 months ago, we wouldn't have had that, that strength-in-depth. So they have certainly strengthened out squad.
"They're experienced and they're hungry and they've missed it and they certainly want to be back in the fold and that means a lot as well."
Dublin and Leinster champions Ballymun await the winners of Sunday's game.