Tuesday 21 November 2017

More than a footballer

Colm Cooper in action for Dr Crokes.
Colm Cooper in action for Dr Crokes.

Més que un club – the motto of FC Barcelona, in English more than a club.

Those words brought to mind this week as news of Colm Cooper's injury filtered through on Monday afternoon. Why? Because just as Barcelona are more than a club, Colm Cooper is more than a player.

He isn't just some other footballer. He's quite possibly the greatest player ever to play the game. There might have been greater warriors – Jack O'Shea, Darragh Ó Sé, Paul Galvin – there might even have been more stylish players – Maurice Fitzgerald – but there haven't been players with as much skill as the Killarney maestro.

The things he can do, the things he can see, the space the he creates, things that nobody else can do. Jaw-dropping, audacious, wonderful things. Things that bring a smile to your face. Things that make you laugh with sheer exhilaration.

Gooch is a dash of colour in our sometimes humdrum existence. The flame haired genius who can turn on a sixpence and leave defenders for dead. The realisation that we won't get to watch him do his thing over the summer has hit a lot of people and hit them hard.

Of course this is the selfish reaction – how it leaves us bereft, what we'll be missing. The real tragedy is Cooper's. You couldn't possibly play football the way Colm Cooper does without loving the game deeply.

There's a joy – a joie de vivre– to the way he plays the game. Few footballers have ever expressed themselves as clearly as Cooper does when he crosses the white line. Sometimes he seems to be acting on pure instinct, at others he seems as though he's playing an elaborate game of chess, three or four moves ahead of everybody else. He's the complete package.

That the championship will be a poorer competition without him in it is self evident and, though it might feel a little crass right now to say so, it's equally self evident that Kerry's chances in the championship will be poorer also.

Of course Kerry aren't a one man team, but you cannot deny the centrality of the Gooch to how the Kingdom approached the championship last year. Going back to the Barcelona analogy, look at the difference between Barca with Lionel Messi in their ranks and Barca without him.

You still have Xavi and Iniesta and Pedro and Sanchez and Busquets, all top players (top, top, top players to quote Brendan Rodgers)... but are they the same without Messi? Hell no. The annihiliation at the hands of FC Bayern in last year's Champions League vividly highlighted that. Kerry will still have a lot of very good footballers. They'll still be a force. Just not as much of a force.

By moving Cooper to centre-forward, Eamonn Fitzmaurice rejuventated that Kerry team last term. Cooper became the focal point. He became the focal point to an extent that he never was before.

Naturally he was always the best was always the best player on the pitch, the most leathal weapon, the pointed end of the rapier, but utterly central to how Kerry approached a game? Not as much as he has become.

To lose Cooper at the height of his influence is a cruel, cruel blow for Kerry and Fitzmaurice. The County Board chairman, Patrick O'Sullivan, described it as like a death in the family. There certainly has been a pall over the Kingdom in the wake of the news.

Like we say, more than a footballer.


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