Cooper fears rule change will spark square-ball chaos
Colm Cooper is predicting chaos over the changes to the square-ball rule that kick in this week, having been passed at last month's Congress, and has suggested it has to the potential for "all hell to break loose".
The rule now allows an opposing player to be in the small parallelogram ahead of the ball, removing the protection previously afforded to goalkeepers. It is designed to remove controversial decisions that have consistently arisen over the rule, particularly in recent years on some of the highest-profile championship afternoons.
But Cooper sees only further hardship for officials in the months ahead and has likened the potential scenes to "a zoo".
"It'll be fairly difficult for referees to police it now. When a team are two points down and they're lobbing balls into the square to try and get a goal, all hell will break loose," he warned.
Cooper has sympathy for goalkeepers who, in his estimation, will go from one extreme to the other with the protection afforded to them.
"They might have been getting a bit too much protection previously but they're going to have a tough time now definitely," he said. "We won't know until we see it but I think there are going to be bodies everywhere.
"Come the 69th minute of a game and you're two points down, it'll be like a zoo in there. There will be bodies everywhere."
The square-ball rule change was successfully trialled during the 2009 league without so much as a hitch but failed to get the required support at Congress later that year to be passed into rule. Cooper doubts, however, that the rule will have much of an impact on the shape and selections of full-forward lines.
"Until we see it we won't know how it works. I don't think it'll make that dramatic a change. If you're playing in the full-forward line you still have to have the skills and the abilities," he said.
"But it is the last minute of the game that I would be worried about, where someone is chasing a goal to get back into a game or to take a lead. I'll think there will be a bit of carnage."
Cooper has shrugged off the effects of a recent ankle injury and says he is now enjoying his football as much as he has ever done, despite the demands on his time. He is confident that he will feel the benefit of a substantial break during the league that saw him take six weeks out after his club Dr Crokes' defeat to Crossmaglen Rangers in the All-Ireland semi-final in February.
"We played Crossmaglen on the Saturday and I spoke to Jack (O'Connor) on the Tuesday or Wednesday afterwards. I just felt that I was just mentally a little bit drained from the whole lot.
"I just felt I needed a break and Jack was absolutely delighted with it," said Cooper, who helped launch the Lucozade Club Crusade in Ballyhale yesterday.
"He wasn't in anyway saying 'please come back'. He knew the benefit from it would probably come later in the year. At the time Kerry were going fine in the league -- there was no big panic, the young players were playing well.
"So he said 'take your time' and after three, four, five weeks maximum, I was keen to get back involved again.
"It's no fun watching games and you begin to miss it again. Since I have been in it has been great, the body is good and I'm getting fitter and stronger.
"I got back for the two Mayo games. I was anxious to play some part in it because if you are away you need a game or two to get back into the pace, and measure where you are at and where you need to get to.
"Obviously when I came back I wasn't as sharp or fit as I would have hoped. Being realistic, I wasn't going to be as sharp as the boys anyway. Now I'm in much better physical shape than I have been."
The Kerry captain insists the league campaign should be taken in a broader context, not just the isolation of the manner of their defeat to Mayo as a four-point lead was relinquished once again.
"There were a couple of minutes of madness again in the Mayo game where we felt we had the game won in normal time and then we had it won again in extra-time, but we gave away two goals at poor stages," he said.
"That was disappointing but if you look at the league as a whole I think we played over 30 players and a lot of young fellas got more time than they have before. Overall I'd say Jack and the management team would be happy with the way it went."
Cooper, an avid Liverpool supporter, watched the dramatic Premier League finale unfold on Sunday as a team in sky blue pinched the title in stoppage-time, and of course it jogged memories back to last September for him.
"You learn from your mistakes in sport. That is what we will be looking to do but last September was a tough defeat to take," he said.
"My first All-Ireland against Armagh, we lost by a point as well and I was gutted after that. Similarly we were four or five points up at half-time in that one as well.
"It just goes to show you fight until the final whistle. We could all learn lessons from last Sunday. There were stages where Manchester City didn't look like they could even equalise, never mind score two goals, but you fight to the bitter end. It was amazing. Sport is very strange -- one thing can change everything."
Cooper has now completed 10 seasons as an inter-county footballer and is in no doubt that the greatest change is off the field, not on it.
"From the moment you get up in the morning, everything is geared towards training or a match. Players will do anything, an extra gym session or a pool session, to get that one or two per cent," he said.
He paid tribute to departed Kerry corner-back Tom O'Sullivan, describing him as the fastest player he ever played against.
"I marked him a number of times every year in club games and he was a nightmare to mark because he was just unbelievably quick," said the 28-year-old six-time All Star.
"Tom was probably the quickest player I ever marked in terms of attacking the ball, or if the ball went over his head he could recover.
"He was definitely laid-back because sometimes Jack would be shaking his head as if to say how could he get this fella going?
"But when it came to the crunch, Tom was always ready. He could be coming across as cool as a breeze but when the job needed to be done he was always there."