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Shake-up in attack a plus: Gooch


Kerry footballer Colm Cooper. Picture: Matt Browne/ Sportsfile.

Kerry footballer Colm Cooper. Picture: Matt Browne/ Sportsfile.

Kerry footballer Colm Cooper. Picture: Matt Browne/ Sportsfile.

IN 2006, when Kerry burned Mayo and won something of a redemptive Sam Maguire under Jack O'Connor, the Kingdom front six lined up thus: Seán O'Sullivan, Declan O'Sullivan, Paul Galvin, Colm Cooper, Kieran Donaghy, Mike Frank Russell.

Darran O'Sullivan came off the bench, as did Eoin Brosnan and Bryan Sheehan.

Seven years later, two thirds of the same sextet remain and Darran O'Sullivan has long been elevated to the role of starter, while Brosnan and Sheehan found more habitable homes in defence and midfield respectively.

Then they were hailed as the best set of forwards in the country, but in recent years, they have been shackled, hijacked and boxed up by the most claustrophobic defensive structures Gaelic football has ever seen, some probably specifically designed with their suffocation in mind.

In January, new boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice (another man to make an appearance from reserve in the '06 final), shorn of all of the above, tested out the next layer of Kerry forwards en masse and almost to a man, they demonstrated why Kerry have been so reliant on so many of their famed attackers for so long.

So Fitzmaurice did what any inventive manager might do and rearranged their alignment, best demonstrated by their performance in the final League match of spring when they put 1-13 on Tyrone in Healy Park in just 35 minutes of football (1-16 in total).

"When you've been there for six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years, then people are going to learn your strengths and weaknesses and things like that," explains Cooper.



"We haven't changed dramatically over that period of time. This year, the management have put their own shape on things and if you change things up, then you keep the other teams guessing a little bit.

"The game has changed as well and you have to evolve. Teams are playing different systems and structures and you just have to match up as best as you can and keep teams thinking."

Against Tyrone, Cooper was switched to the less populated expanses of centre-forward, with Declan and Darran O'Sullivan manning the corners and feeding off a rejuvenated Donaghy and it worked a treat.

"The advantage we have with our forwards is that a lot of them can play in a couple of positions," says Cooper. "Declan can play inside and come out and we're able to adapt. I'm sure for every game it might change.

"Management have tried me there and looked to change up the set-up of our play a little bit. We'll probably see that evolving during the season a little bit."

Typically, 'Gooch' has been as effective from the pivot of Kerry attack as he has been his entire career in a more advanced posting, but after three Sam-less years for Kerry, he's simply eager to contribute to a winning cause.

"I've been playing corner-forward for most of my years, so that would be one of my favourite positions," he admits.

"Corner-forward is my favourite position still, but I don't mind playing at centre-forward.

"I don't mind if it's a playmaking role or a scoring role if I'm close to goal. It really doesn't bother me because I've been doing it for Crokes for a long time in terms of coming out the field and playing a little bit. It's just another area of my game that's improved over the last couple of years. If it can improve Kerry, then all the better."

As it happens, Gooch will captain the Kerry team on Sunday in the absence of injured club-mate Brosnan, though it is not a role he expects to hang on to after a couple of unlucky years in the job.

"It's fine," he says. "Eoin is the captain of the team for the year as far as we're concerned and when he gets himself back to full fitness, he'll be in the mix then and if he's playing, he'll be the captain."

A win for Kerry sets up a Munster semi-final with Waterford just six days later, a prickly bone of contention in the Kingdom.

"Well it just doesn't match up for me," Cooper admits. "The Championship is played from the start of May until the end of September. Surely they can put a structure in place where you're playing every couple of weeks.

"I suppose some of the problems are that a lot of the players are dual players and trying to get the balance right. I just think a six-day turnaround, in my opinion, is crazy."

FIONN FITZGERALD is the only Kerry debutant named in Eamonn Fitzmaurice's maiden championship selection for the visit of Tipperary on Sunday, while as expected, Colm Cooper has been named to start at centre-forward.

CONOR COUNIHAN has named five championship debutants in the Cork team to face Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds tomorrow night (7.0).

Ken O'Halloran starts in goals for the first time, while Tomás Clancy is picked at right-half back for his summer bow. Three members of this year's U21 team; Damien Cahalane, John O'Rourke and Brian Hurley are also included for their debuts.

KERRY (SF v Tipperary): B Kealy; M Ó Sé, A O'Mahony, F Fitzgerald; T Ó Sé, K Young, P Crowley; A Maher, J Buckley; P Galvin, C Cooper, D Walsh; Declan O'Sullivan, K Donaghy, J O'Donoghue.

CORK (SF v Limerick): K O'Halloran; E Cadogan, M Shields, D Cahalane; P Kissane, G Canty, T Clancy; A Walsh, P O'Neill; C Sheehan, P Kelly, J O'Rourke; D Goulding, B Hurley, P Kerrigan.