Thursday 29 September 2016

'There was a game the following weekend and pints on the Sunday were wrong'

Published 17/10/2015 | 02:30

Running onto the Tullamore pitch alongside Jack O'Connor for the SFC game against Antrim in 2009 after being left on the bench for a 'breach of discipline'
Running onto the Tullamore pitch alongside Jack O'Connor for the SFC game against Antrim in 2009 after being left on the bench for a 'breach of discipline'
Cooper: Breach of discipline

In my 17 years with Kerry my buddies were the team: I went out with them, I socialised with them, I played golf with them. And now, when it's over, I stay in touch and I text them. But I wouldn't see them as much, obviously.

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Throughout my career I always had the three or four buddies from home I'd be in touch with - the best buddies I had were Darragh and Marc, and obviously I'm still close to them - but when you're gone, you're gone.

It's over. The players on the inside need to know that they can trust each other, that stuff that happens in-house stays in-house.

There were plenty of problems over the years - fights and bust- ups, fellas leaving panels and coming back - that never came out, and proper order. The time myself and Gooch went offside was an exception, though.

That year, 2009, we were working hard and training well, but it just wasn't clicking in games. There was just something about the games early on in the year: we were stuttering a bit, though we were super-sharp in training. Flying.

I was cranky enough in myself. Even though I wasn't picking up red cards or getting suspended, I wasn't happy. In the back-door game against Sligo in Tralee we were on the ropes, but it was one of my better games. Galvin had a good game as well.

We never liked playing championship in Tralee. The sod is different. The stand is different. The field itself seems narrower and shorter. The surroundings are different. All of which adds up to saying it's no Killarney, basically.

But we got over the line eventually against Sligo. I had buddies over from Birmingham. They were going to a wedding in Dingle and, as I was driving back, I said I'd meet them for a pint in the Dingle Skellig.

We - by which I mean myself, Darragh and Marc, who were with me - went on and made a night of it inside in Dingle, hitting Dick Mack's and a few more places. The following day the Birmingham lads were around as well, so we had a few pints that afternoon.

Now, as a team we were good for socialising, but we also knew where and when to draw the line. We wouldn't have won what we did otherwise. But we transgressed that time, all right. Fair enough.

There were no contracts drawn up for the players, no agreements written in stone, but we knew we were wrong. There was a game the following weekend, and pints on the Sunday were wrong. We knew that.

Since Páidí had gone from Kerry, west of Dingle was a haven for us. Ard an Bhóthair is a long way from south Kerry, and we were having a few pints in Páidí's pub. But a neighbour of Jack's was inside there as well, and he carried the story back. It all came out. I knew it was coming: a third party rang me to tip me off that there was trouble on the way.

A lot of people thought I was with 'Gooch' that time: not at all. To this day I don't know what he was doing, and I never asked him. After it all finished we'd have a great laugh about it - 'Where did we go on to after that?' 'What did we do then?' That kind of thing.

When Jack rang me and said, "You were drinking," I said, "Yeah." I'd say he was taken aback, and he said there'd have to be a sanction.

He asked me to meet him and the selectors in the Park Hotel in Killarney before that night's training. At that point nobody really knew about Darragh or Marc, and I wasn't going to volunteer any information about them.

I met Jack and the selectors, and they said they were dropping me for the next game. I took it on the chin and said, "Grand," and off with us to training.

After training there was a players' meeting. Darragh just denied having pints, point blank. Marc hadn't had too many; he said he hadn't been drinking.

Darragh wasn't happy that we were dropped for the next game. We were playing Antrim and it would have been interesting to see if we would have been dropped if we were playing Dublin, maybe.

Chin

I'd like to think that the players in the dressing-room would have known that I took nothing more seriously than Kerry. I wasn't right, and I went off and did it anyway; but it was wrong, and I knew it was wrong, and I certainly didn't make a habit of it. I took it on the chin.

I didn't like the way it came out, and Jack could have handled that better; we could have organised releasing that information in a better way and it wouldn't have mattered as long as we were strong- minded enough to keep focused. It p*ssed me off.

One thing I'll always be grateful for was the support of the Kerry crowd for that Antrim match. There was a big Kerry crowd there when we went out and they gave us a huge welcome. We got the win and Jack got to look strong out of it too - "I'm not afraid to drop big names," that kind of thing.

I had no beef with being dropped. I had no beef with the players' meeting either: Jack and the selectors stepped out of it, and we had as good a pow-wow as Munster rugby ever had.

I wouldn't have any grudges against anyone who said anything in that meeting. I admired the likes of Mícheál Quirke and Declan O'Sullivan, who stood up and said, "What happened was wrong. It doesn't matter who did it or who didn't do it, but whoever did it should stand up and take their medicine."

They were two of the lads who'd back you the most and have the balls to say it. That's honesty, and I had no problem taking my medicine. There were others probably thinking the same, but those two said it out loud. Myself and the Gooch had no problem acknowledging it: we apologised to the team, and everything moved on.

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