Clubs are not getting a fair deal - Cooper
For eight weekends in a row now, Colm 'Gooch' Cooper has suited up for Dr Crokes. An unrelenting schedule is the price of success at this time of year. Cooper should know, he's been paying the bills for long enough at this stage.
On Sunday, he'll tog out again in the AIB Munster club SFC final against Waterford's The Nire in Mallow. Win there, as they're expected to do, and the 2016 season will spill into 2017. And assuming he returns with Kerry for another season, there'll be no break of note from football for Cooper until late in 2017 at best.
He's been in this position before with Crokes as they won three Munster titles in a row from 2011 to 2013. He knows what it takes to win at intercounty level and how clubs often end up paying the price. And that makes him well placed to comment on the disconnect that can exist between the pair.
"There's frustration certainly from the club people, because they don't know when they're going to be playing and they don't know when their championship is going to commence again after the summer," Cooper agreed.
"And then they don't know when they're going to have access to all their players.
"So it's difficult for club managers to plan and they probably feel that, look, the club is what the GAA is all about, that's what it's built on, and we're not getting a fair hearing here in many cases.
"So maybe that's where the frustration of the club manager comes from.
"But there's two spectrums and I've been lucky to see both sides of it. When you're with the county, you want tunnel vision on trying to achieve getting to Croke Park and winning an All-Ireland with Kerry.
"And that's the Kerry manager's job. His job isn't to facilitate the club structure.
"At the same time, the club manager is only worried about his club team trying to win a county championship.
"So everyone has their own priorities but, at the moment, it's creating tension and frustration - and from what I'm hearing, I don't think we're going to see a solution any time very soon."
Cooper is in favour of having the entire schedule run off in a calendar year but isn't hopeful that it can be put in place easily.
"The problem is intercounty managers have so much power and in a lot of the cases have a very strong view on fixtures and when they want their county players," he explained.
"If you're an intercounty player you're going to be judged on the success of your team and you want them all during the summer and you don't want them going back to clubs and picking up knocks or things.
"That's the way it seems to be going and I don't see it changing anytime soon."
Cooper will park any decision on his future with Kerry until after Dr Crokes' campaign has come to an end. Many expect him to return for another season with Eamonn Fitzmaurice's men but he insists it will depend on whether the "hunger is still there".
He could return to a different Kerry dressing-room given the retirements of the likes of Marc Ó Sé and the success of the Kingdom underage sides of late, which could pump new blood into the set-up.
However, Cooper admitted fears that more of the county's best youngsters could be lured Down Under by the AFL.
"We would love the likes of Mark O'Connor to be still be at home and other lads who have been up at trials in recent weeks but if you are talking to 17 and 18-year-olds and the lure of going to Australia and signing a rookie contract and live as a professional, it is hard to compete," he conceded.
"I would love to see the GAA try to safeguard our players and try to keep them at home and keep them playing with their clubs and their counties, but I am not sure what they can do on that one because the clubs that are coming over are fairly aggressive, they are holding clinics and sure, we have our own man, Tadhg Kennelly, stuck in the middle of it.
"They are looking for the best players, and if you look at the Irish players that have gone to Australia in recent years, they have been making an impact.
"So they want the creme de la creme from Ireland and that opportunity for young guys going over, it is something they are finding hard to say no to."
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