Vincent Hogan: Colm Cooper masterclass reminds Kingdom what they've been missing
Published 03/08/2015 | 02:30
Colm Cooper took the air of the city into his lungs yesterday and decided to introduce some lyricism into a prosaic Championship.
Remember him? You'd be forgiven if it's a bit of a blur. The Gooch's first Croke Park start since the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final came about only because Kieran Donaghy picked up a groin problem in training last Thursday night and, when it came to nominating a replacement, Eamonn Fitzmaurice could not logically look too far.
Then again, Kerry exhumed more than a single ghost on this peculiar day in the big smoke, throwing the likes of Darran O'Sullivan, Paul Galvin and Tommy Walsh in off the bench, each to pretty murderous effect en route to their biggest Championship win since the infamous 'Milltown Massacre' of '79.
Now it's maybe best not to over-scrutinise the evidence of a game in which Kildare lurched towards the foothills of disrepute by all but folding their tents during a closing half-hour in which they leaked seven goals to a team playing like hardwood exhibitionists in Harlem.
But the simple beauty of Cooper's football still had a restorative quality, the Killarney genius playing a game requiring mental wiring that mortals just can't access.
He scored 2-3 in the end, some Kerry loyalists in the press eyrie left positively moist-eyed by what they interpreted as his humanitarian depth in fisting a 66th minute point with the Hill end goal gaping before him like an open safe.
And it was almost easy to believe that Kildare could trigger compassion in an opponent.
Because their collective psyche was, palpably, in a sling by then.
Despite Donaghy's absence, despite James O'Donoghue being lost to a shoulder injury just half an hour in, despite Kerry deploying Gooch initially as a kind of free-spirit roaming the middle third as inoffensively as a bell-boy, Kildare were, it quickly became apparent, tuned to the aggression of monks on retreat.
Fermanagh at least confronted Dublin's authority in the second game. They chased hard, made tackles, summoned a semblance of outrage at the turf accountants' figures. No, they were never going to win. But you listened to the roars of their people as Jim Gavin and Pete McGrath exchanged warm hand-shakes at the finish and there was no mistaking the sense that their day had not been wasted.
Kildare did not have that consolation. Jason Ryan's eyes were almost burned-out shadows as, with commendable dignity, he picked through the threads of humiliation.
"The guys know the capabilities, the potential is there," he sighed in a quiet media auditorium under the Cusack Stand.
"But it's about being able to put that out on a big day. It's not a Croke Park factor or it's not a live TV factor, plenty of our games this year were live TV games. So that's not a factor. It's something we'll have to reflect on and look at why and how.
"We can't afford gaps like we allowed Dublin to get a few weeks ago and like we allowed Kerry to get today. We're certainly not as poor as either of those performances would suggest.
"But it's levels of consistency and understanding what's required to be very, very competitive. There's ability in this group."
Trouble is, we are looking at a multi-tiered Championship in which Kildare's "ability" was always destined to bring them only so far.
They don't have a Gooch, they don't have an O'Donoghue or David Moran. Actually, it's a pretty moot point if they even have a Stephen O'Brien, the chorus-line wing-forward who was Kerry's best player while this game still carried the pretence of a contest.
In June, Kildare lost to Dublin by 19 points. Yesterday's deficit was 27. There's not much scope for misinterpreting those figures.
So the day was everything we suspected it was cursed to be. Fermanagh mining great hope and jollity from an eight-points defeat pretty much encapsulated the tenor of weekend business. The build-up had an air of posters flapping in the wind, promoting a circus that nobody quite believed in.
So Gooch became yesterday's trumpet-line. It was 14 minutes in before he got his first touch, setting Paul Geaney in on goal with a sumptuous foot-pass only for the Dingle man to spill like a clumsy waiter.
Ten minutes later, Cooper glided away from Mick O'Grady to roll home a regal point and, thereafter, his movement might as well have been set to music.
True, it took the introduction of O'Sullivan's pace to jolt Kildare from simple neurosis into absolute terror and his assist for Gooch's opening goal lacked nothing but a silver salver.
Typically, the compliment had been returned within two minutes and when, in the 52nd minute, Cooper caught an Anthony Maher delivery over Ciaran Fitzpatrick's head, swivelling around to score Kerry's fifth goal with an elegant finish, the Kerry noise was an exultant chorus.
It all but sounded like a family welcoming a loved one home.
Yet, for Gooch himself, a natural impulse was to retreat from the commotion.
"In fairness to Kildare, they've been on the road for the last three weeks and you could see it in their legs," he shrugged.
"But we're delighted with the performance. You saw Tommy Walsh and Paul Galvin making impressions off the bench there, that's the squad we have.
"You're going to be in some days and maybe not picked the next day. Everyone's fighting to get a start.
"Look, it's been a long year but days like today make it worthwhile. It's great to be back."
By the end of his 80th Championship game, Cooper hadn't so much put down a marker to start the next day as delivered a demand in writing.
Will it be heard?
If O'Donoghue's shoulder injury isn't severe, just think of the attacking power now at Kerry's disposal. Donaghy, presumably, will be available while, between them, O'Sullivan and Barry John Keane scored 3-5 off the bench.
"It's great for Colm," said Fitzmaurice with the enigmatic smile of a card shark. "Again, since the drawn Munster final he has trained well.
"His football form has picked up a good bit and he has been pushing hard for a start. The way it worked out with Kieran's injury it gave us a chance to start him and he got 70 minutes under the belt, which was brilliant."
As near as you will get to an expression of Kerry candour.