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Winning isn't easy – Cooper

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Jonny Cooper, Dublin, consoles Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Jonny Cooper, Dublin, consoles Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Jonny Cooper, Dublin, consoles Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SNAPSHOTS of an All-Ireland final. Mayo invading the Hill – again. This time, from the inside.

Dublin halting their pre-match parade march prior to arrival at a green and red blotched Railway End.

Bernard Brogan's sense of timing. Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs.

Eoghan O'Gara on one leg. Rory O'Carroll on a different cosmos entirely.

The tragicomedy of miscommunication that preceded Cillian O'Connor's pointless late free.

And Jonny Cooper consoling Rob Hennelly afterwards, a moment that, in the days after, attracted as much admiration as any play from the match itself.

Minutes earlier, in a less tender passage, having been concussed in an accidental clash of heads with Andy Moran, Cooper vomited whilst sitting amongst the Dublin substitutes.

After the final whistle though, bearings safely relocated, he made his way gingerly into the middle of the pitch where the Mayo players were congregating in familiar and sombre shapes.

He shook hands with Moran and Liam Moffatt, Mayo's team physio and another of the DCU set of which himself and Hennelly were members.

"I don't know what came over me," Cooper recalls now of his moment of sportsmanship, coming, as it did, just 90 seconds or so after the final whistle was blown on the Na Fianna defender's first All-Ireland senior title.

"But for some reason, I thought about Rob. And immediately I looked over for him. So instinctively, I just ran down to him at his goal."

They bumped into one another three weeks later and danced around it in that awkward way people discuss something long after the moment is gone.

"We didn't really talk about it but we did, if you know what I mean?"

"I suppose it's one of those things that ... it's easy to say after winning the All-Ireland, but you'd have a bit of sympathy for fellas. Particularly Rob. He's a good guy on and off the pitch. It was tough for him."

For Cooper, victory that day wasn't just a measure of reparation for having missed out on the 2011 All-Ireland when he was overlooked for Pat Gilroy's squad, it also silenced a screech from within.

The one forcing him to lull into moments of doubt or drift towards daydreams of lifting Sam Maguire in the days beforehand.

"It did cross my mind, yeah," he admits. "But for me anyway, dealing with the chimp and what he needs to know and what he doesn't need to know is something I'm learning at the minute."

CHIMP

The 'chimp' to which Cooper refers is the title character in The Chimp Paradox, the thesis of Dr Steven Peters, a psychiatrist who worked with the 2012 Olympic Team GB cycle team and Tour de France winners Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, in which the irrational, emotional side of a personality is depicted as a chimp who can be trained.

"The lads, the 26 of them or whatever, would have been open enough during the weeks leading up to it to come out and say, 'look lads, this is what I'm feeling. Is anyone else feeling this?'

"I know I expressed something along those lines. I got a bit derailed in terms of the outside factors, the hundreds of things that go on outside the team before an All-Ireland.

"The group is very open in terms of honesty. Whether that's: 'I'm feeling shite' or 'this is what I'm thinking'.

"You have to remember that the guys around you have gone through it. And can probably give you answer in ten seconds, whereas you've been thinking about it for ten days."

SPIRIT

It's that right-mindedness and that sense of unity (Jim Gavin regularly cites the group's, as he terms it, 'Espirit des Corps') that Cooper suspects will identify and exterminate any infestation of self-satisfaction.

"It's an honest group in that, if you weren't up for it, you'd put your hand up and say 'look, this isn't for me'.

"And I think, if you didn't put up your hand, someone else would spot you and pull you up over it and say 'Jonny Cooper shouldn't be here because he's not f***ing pulling his weight'. I wouldn't see hunger as being an issue at all."

Then again, all defending champions say that. And most even mean it.

But if there is a stick against which Dublin can measure their desire to go again, it will arrive in Croke Park on Saturday in the shape of Mayo.

Thus far, they've performed their now annual February lull/March surge trick and particularly against Cork last time out, they appeared focused and incessant, looking – again – like a team for whom technical improvement is visible and determination, a given.

PROCESSES

Thing is, while James Horan has always dissociated this Mayo team with the All-Ireland final sins of their predecessors, his side have now lost two on the spin.

"I don't know what process they go through," Cooper says. "Whether it's mentioned in team talks or at training. I don't know whether they use it or whether they blank it out.

"It's something that maybe consciously, you might not think of. But subconsciously, it could be difficult to block out. It's tough, I'd say.

"You have to carry this weight that by and large, isn't really your problem."

"But look," he concludes, "they have the talent to do it. No question. But there are lots of different things that go into it. And winning is hard."

Just don't ask the chimp.

p 2014 marks the 22nd year of Allianz's sponsorship of the Allianz Leagues making them the longest standing supporter of Gaelic Games at inter-county level.


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