Sunday 19 November 2017

Alan Brogan: Clinical Cooper a genius that any attacker can learn lessons from

The Gooch had it all - natural skill, incredible composure and the ability to terrorise defenders

'I would have loved to play with the Gooch, the way he delivered his passes, always to his team-mates’ advantage with a little bounce into the chest; it looked easy but believe me only a few have mastered this' Photo: Sportsfile
'I would have loved to play with the Gooch, the way he delivered his passes, always to his team-mates’ advantage with a little bounce into the chest; it looked easy but believe me only a few have mastered this' Photo: Sportsfile

Alan Brogan

The Gooch's eight All Star awards are a testament to a career of consistent brilliance. He produced more iconic moments than any other player over the last 15 years, lighting up many championship games for GAA supporters all over the world.

Strangely the only accolade missing is a Player of the Year award. Sometimes the exceptional players get judged against their own very high standards and it's fair to say the Gooch's average was better than the best of most. He set the bar so high from his debut season that we came to expect the extraordinary from Colm. I don't think this omission harms his legacy in any way. With the outpouring of tributes, it's clear to see people appreciate what an amazing talent we have been lucky to witness over the course of his great career.

Over the years I became friendly at different stages with a few of the Kerry lads - Marc Ó Sé, Aidan O'Mahony, Paul Galvin - but I never really got to know the Gooch. Any time I did meet him he seemed quiet and reserved. I know he carried great confidence in himself to deliver on the big day and so often he was Kerry's go-to guy in a team of full of leaders and talent.

In victory and defeat he always seemed a great sportsman, indeed he seems like quite a normal Joe. I sent him a message during the week wishing him the very best, signing it off that I hope to meet him at some stage over the coming years.

For now it's about remembering the footballer. The Gooch made his debut in the same year as myself, 2002. In the years after, there was so much to admire. I often looked at how he finished his goal chances: he was so composed when he got goal opportunities and the way he would pass it to the net was remarkable.

Mossy Quinn, who I played with for many years, had a similar ability to pick a spot and place it there with the side of the foot. Mossy and Gooch are the two best one-on-one finishers I have ever seen.

He may correct me some day but similar to myself I don't think Gooch was the biggest fan of the emerging strength and conditioning programmes. He was a purist: no time for the gym, he just wanted to play football. I would have loved to play with the Gooch, the way he delivered his passes, always to his team-mates' advantage with a little bounce into the chest; it looked easy but believe me only a few have mastered this. This is a skill I often discussed with my brother Bernard, how he liked to receive the ball. I always tried to pass it to his advantage and at a speed and trajectory that he could attack it.

For me it was clear to see the Gooch had these type of conversations with the likes of Kieran Donaghy. The Gooch's mind worked faster than most. He had a speed of thought that cannot be coached, and he could see plays developing two or three passes before they did. His focus was constantly on trying to leave space in which he could receive the ball. Once he got the ball in his hands, he had all the attributes any coach should be trying to teach a young forward - balance, speed off the mark, two feet, dummy solo, vision . . . the list goes on.

There has been much debate over the last few days about whether the Gooch is the best ever. Who knows, and does it really matter? He will be happy with his haul of All-Ireland medals, especially the recent club title. For me the Gooch is certainly the most natural Gaelic footballer I have seen through the course of my career. Of the current day I think only Diarmuid Connolly and Michael Murphy come close to matching his natural ability.

Special players come in for special attention from opposition defenders. Thankfully for the likes of myself and the Gooch, the early part of our careers were generally free from blanket defences and you got opportunities to go man on man with defenders. This was when the Gooch did most of his damage in the inside forward line. I think he probably enjoyed the early part of his inter-county career more than the later years. One on one he was unmarkable; David Henry and Paddy Andrews endured torrid days when they were left isolated with him. In the 2011 final his goal against us was a thing of beauty, and his point to put Kerry four up with ten minutes left was trademark, a dummy solo on the left and swung over with the right.

At the time it looked like a nail in our coffin… the rest is history and I won't go there today. In 2013 against the Dubs, Gooch played at number 11. We all remember probably his greatest play-making display in the first half, forcing us to take Ger Brennan off him at half-time. It's probably the only roasting I ever saw Ger get. In the final in 2015 we finally got it right. If the Gooch had a weakness it was his ability to defend. I'm not saying he would shirk his duties, but we knew if Philly McMahon got him thinking about defending it would limit how dangerous he could be offensively.

Philly did a good job on Gooch that day; in fairness the weather didn't help and it was a defender's day. Philly is a player I wish Dublin had early in my career, a teak-tough defender with great footballing ability. It's a match-up I would have loved to see with both guys in their prime.

The lasting images I will have of the Gooch were the goals he scored against Dublin, 2009 and 2011 in particular. Everybody will take their own memory of him. There is so much for coaches and forward players to learn from him, study a video, watch some of the movement, and watch some of the beautiful kicking technique.

Paul Galvin's description of the Gooch sums him up beautifully: "He has an innate unorthodoxy that I saw at close quarters, he moves in circles when everyone else moves in straight lines. He takes a bounce or solo when others kick; he kicks when others can't see it.

"The bounce or solo was never for show, but almost always when he sensed a goal. Only then… He has this cold composure. He sees things differently and unconventionally. In business that is called disruptive thinking. In sport it is called genius."

There is something to be learned for even the best of forwards in those few lines.

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