Saturday 21 October 2017

Martin Breheny: Why Colm Cooper is the fifth greatest forward of them all

Let the arguments commence about his place among greatest forwards in football history

Mikey Sheehy played in more lawless times than Colm Cooper did, when the ‘hard man’ didn’t have to worry as much about the rules or TV close-ups. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Mikey Sheehy played in more lawless times than Colm Cooper did, when the ‘hard man’ didn’t have to worry as much about the rules or TV close-ups. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

His inter-county career started in the spring of 2002, ended in the autumn of 2016 and, in between, delivered enough golden summers to provide endless winter talk.

That's the season when deliberations and comparisons fuel the GAA's debating fires but this time we can't wait for long nights to reflect on Colm Cooper's place in football folklore. As the applause laps around 'Gooch', there will be unanimity about his right to take a seat high up the table reserved for all-time greats.

Question is - how high? That's where consensus evaporates and personal preferences take over. And while they are deeply subjective, nothing in sport stimulates debate more than comparisons. Let's return then to the issue of where the 'Gooch' should be seated at the 'greats' table. Here's my top 20 forwards from the last 50 years . . .

1 MIKEY SHEEHY (Kerry)

By way of encapsulating his excellence, here's a quote from former Dublin goalkeeper, John O'Leary some years ago. "He had such a clinical football brain that you knew something was going to happen every time he got possession." That applied to 'Gooch' too but Sheehy played in more lawless times when the 'hard man' didn't have as much to worry him, either from the rules or TV close-ups, as is the case nowadays.

2 PETER CANAVAN (Tyrone)

Mikey Sheehy played in more lawless times than Colm Cooper did, when the ‘hard man’ didn’t have to worry as much about the rules or TV close-ups. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Mikey Sheehy played in more lawless times than Colm Cooper did, when the ‘hard man’ didn’t have to worry as much about the rules or TV close-ups. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile

Now there was a man who took some abuse, especially in Ulster, but he had so much physical and mental resolve that all obstacles, including the psychological challenge of being from a county that prior to 2003, had never won an All-Ireland title, were overcome.

3 PAT SPILLANE (Kerry)

On his really good days he was unmarkable.

4 MATT CONNOR (Offaly)

How much more would he have achieved if his career hadn't been ended by a car accident at the age of 24?

5 COLM COOPER (Kerry)

Many will argue that he should be higher. They may be right but with an open cheque book, I would pay more for the four above him.

6 SEAN O'NEILL (Down)

One of only two Ulster men selected on the Team of the Millennium.

7 MAURICE FITZGERALD (Kerry)

Much of his career coincided with one of the most barren periods in the Kingdom's history. It left his brilliance under-exposed but not under-recognised.

8 LARRY TOMPKINS (Kildare & Cork)

Different to the previous seven, he was more of a creator than a finisher. There's room for that too in any 'greats' list.

9 JIMMY KEAVENEY (Dublin)

Would the Dublin revival of the 1970s have happened without him? Probably not.

10 COLM O'ROURKE (Meath)

Twenty years on Royal duty was some achievement.

11 PADRAIC JOYCE (Galway)

He is behind Seán Purcell as Galway's greatest-ever player but may be ahead as their best forward.

12 Eoin 'BOMBER' LISTON (Kerry)

'You could drive any sort of ball in on top of 'Bomber' and he'd win it' - Mick O'Dwyer. He could finish quite a few of them as well.

13 BERNARD BROGAN (Dublin)

He celebrated his 33rd birthday on Monday but judging from his contribution last Sunday, his race still has some way to run.

14 JOHN EGAN (Kerry)

Held scoreless only five times in over 30 championship games - now there's scoring consistency.

15 BARNEY ROCK (Dublin)

There was much more to his game than accurate free-taking.

16 MICHAEL MURPHY (Donegal)

Heading into his 11th championship season at the age of 27, he has plenty time to move up the achievement lists.

17 TREVOR GILES (Meath)

Everything he did looked effortless, a genuine indicator of true class.

18 MARTIN McHUGH (Donegal)

Former Down and current Fermanagh manager Peter McGrath once described McHugh thus: "An artist with speed, courage, scoring ability and a great technique when carrying the ball."

19. MICKEY KEARINS (Sligo)

How many All-Ireland medals would he have if he had been born in Kerry?

20 GREG BLANEY (Down)

Down attacks revolved around him at No 11 for many years, including the 1991 and 1994 All-Ireland-winning seasons.

Irish Independent

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