Saturday 22 October 2016

'Gooch' checklist points to green light for 2017

Published 12/10/2016 | 02:30

Dr Crokes and Kerry star Colm Cooper at yesterday’s launch of the 2016/17 AIB Club Championships. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Dr Crokes and Kerry star Colm Cooper at yesterday’s launch of the 2016/17 AIB Club Championships. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Colm Cooper's checklist for the future revolves around three different headings - body, enjoyment and hunger.

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Meet the requirements for all three and the green light will surely flash for 2017 and a 16th year as an inter-county footballer with Kerry.

Right now he insists it's still a decision to be made once his commitments with Dr Crokes are parked.

That could, conceivably, take him to St Patrick's Day next as the Killarney club appear rejuvenated under former Kerry manager Pat O'Shea. But any close analysis of his comments yesterday could only conclude that he'll be back.

A county final against Kenmare District in Fitzgerald Stadium on Sunday can potentially open up a prolonged winter for them again.

He had his busiest league campaign for many years, featuring in six of Kerry's nine games and was progressing well before a shoulder injury picked up in the Munster final against Tipperary derailed him at the wrong time.

"That was disappointing because the league had gone well, otherwise. I think I'd played six league games and hadn't played that many in a long time. I felt I was building.


"Then in the middle of the summer I was caught for three weeks, not able to do a whole lot.

"But when I look back on the season, I was far happier than the year before. And I enjoyed it a lot more. It didn't finish the way we wanted it to finish, but it was more enjoyable for me.

"I found it hard the year before to regain the form. This year the knee didn't react in any way. So that's the positive. The hunger was there and continues to be there with the club, so we'll see what happens."

He's had one brief conversation with Eamonn Fitzmaurice who has committed to managing the county for two more years, a decision that didn't surprise Cooper.

"We'd inklings during the summer that he probably would stay on. And I suppose when you're thinking of successors, Jack O'Connor is very committed to the U-21s, Peter Keane has committed to the minors.

"I'm sure there were other candidates out there who would have liked the opportunity with Kerry.

"But I think from a continuity sense the fact Eamonn has worked with a lot of the young players who have come into the panel - eight U-21s, the most we've had since I was playing with Kerry anyway - the county board took a stance that he was the right person to take that forward and, from a players' point of view, I think they're happy to see him stay on and build.

"Kerry feel they are not too far away, and when you look at the All-Ireland finals, they feel they are on that level with Mayo and Dublin. So it's about Eamonn taking it to the next stage.

"I've just had a chat with him over the phone. There was no big discussion about staying on. We kind of left it. I think he just wanted to give me a bit of space to go out and enjoy my county championship football."

If Cooper does return he is not sure what involvement he would have in next year's league.

"I know from last year when I met with him we both felt the league was important for me, to get back playing and get as much time under my belt as possible. Would that be the case this year? I'm not sure. It's something that needs to be thrashed out.

"He's very fair and reasonable and would certainly be looking at the bigger picture. Let's be honest, Kerry are going to be judged on the championship next year, not where they finish in Division 1."

Cooper feels that Kerry are entitled to feel a little bit better after their 2016 defeat to Dublin than they did after 2015.

"I felt we performed better against Dublin this year. I think we could stand back after the 2015 final and say we didn't play well enough to win. Losing by three points probably flattered us. We couldn't have any complaints.

"This year was different. For most of the game we did very well in most areas. And Dublin again finished stronger than us, which seems to be a bit of a trait for them.

"It's a trait against every other team as well by the way. So this year was very disappointing because we felt it was there for us, we just needed another one or two per cent and we couldn't find it.

"In 2015 we were chasing the game, just hanging in to be honest."

Cooper doesn't see Dublin as 'invincible,' certainly not to Mayo or Kerry who have competed so well with them over the last two seasons.

"We certainly didn't think they were invincible, because if we thought that, we might as well stay home for the weekend. When you come from Kerry, you think you can beat everyone. Maybe that is arrogance or you can call it anything you want, maybe it was the tradition we have. We put ourselves in a good position and we couldn't close it out and that was that.

"The reason there is an invincibility about Dublin is they are going out beating teams by 10 points or 15 points and that can be very soul-destroying for other teams, who wonder how they can compete with them - but the fact that Kerry and Mayo have competed with them, given hope to other teams that we can live with these guys - that is where the invincibility piece comes from."

Cooper's return to full fitness, allied to Kieran O'Leary's recovery and an injection of youth gives Crokes a strong hand on Sunday.

"We seem to have got the bit between the teeth this year. Pat O'Shea, who is our coach, has us well drilled, the hunger seems to be back, a couple of young lads coming through which has helped certainly us older fellas."

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