Fans will vote with feet if skills get the boot – Gooch
DYING on its feet? Kerry's Colm Cooper stops short of suggesting Gaelic football is in terminal decline, but argues that the patient is ill.
Tactical approaches based around minimising risk and a move away from natural footballers in favour of athletes are some of the reasons why the Dr Crokes sharpshooter believes that the product is waning.
"As a supporter, I go to matches to see that little bit of brilliance, that little bit of class," Cooper said.
"I love to see the competitive, the fair shoulder, the hitting, that stuff as well, but I think if you take the class and the brilliance and the elegance of players out, it will be a lesser game because of it. At the moment, that's happening more and more. That's worrying, to be honest."
Now 30, Cooper played in his first All-Ireland final in 2002 when he lined out against Armagh, weighing just 10stone.
There are, he says, more questions than answers about how to improve the game as a spectacle, but believes people are voting with their feet and not turning up to games in the numbers they once did.
"If it continues to go the way it is, you'll see attendances dropping. You need to safeguard the skills of the game and the skilful players in the game," he said.
"My worry is, an 18 or 19 year-old now, who is 5ft 10ins, carrying no weight – he might be the most skilful guy in the county and the best player in the county championship, but will he be picked by the county team? I'd have my doubts.
"It's going that way, yeah. Not in all counties, but it seems to be a worrying trend that the more athletic guy is more likely to make it than the more skilful guy and, to me, that's not right."
Now weighing in at 12 stone, Cooper is better able to cope with the rigours of inter-county football. But, after admitting frustration at having to operate in the congested area around the full-forward line, he looks rejuvenated at centre-forward, a role he often plays for his club.
He'll most likely fill that position when Cork and Kerry clash in Sunday week's Munster SFC final and Cooper believes Kerry can still win All-Irelands playing a more orthodox game.
"That's Kerry and Cork's way and the way it has traditionally been done. I don't see it changing any time soon. It has served us pretty well down through the years, I don't think there will be a radical change. It's just the way we were brought up playing football."
Kerry's team for the showdown with Cork will have a slightly less familiar look to it. Cooper's clubmates Fionn Fitzgerald and Johnny Buckley have established themselves in Eamon Fitzmaurice's starting 15 following the Kingdom's facile Munster SFC wins over Tipperary and Waterford.
They built on the steady improvement since the early rounds of the league. After those February defeats to Mayo and Dublin, the new wave were held up as unworthy successors to the side that has collected five All-Irelands since the turn of the millennium. And Cooper agrees that the upcoming Munster final has a renewed significance as the newcomers look to prove a point against their fiercest rivals.
"They got plenty of stick. We have guys in our squad that don't have a Munster medal. People talk about the Kerry squad being very successful with Munster, league and All-Ireland medals, but a lot of guys don't have that. So, playing in Killarney with your own crowd, they'll be very eager to get a victory – and it's the same with the older guys. Sure, it's a Munster final.
"I love playing Cork and once the rivalry is still there between the sides, the fixture will never diminish."