Saturday 16 November 2019

Cooper fired up for different challenge with the Dubs in his sights

Kieran McCarthy

IT takes a lot to get Colm Cooper excited. But that's not his fault. It's the nature of the beast that is Kerry football.

He might only be 28 years old, but the Kerry captain has already crammed more into his 10-year inter-county career than most other counties have ever achieved. He has seen it all. Nothing fazes him. It's the norm, as he sees and lives it.

But there's a glint in his eye this week, the return of that butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling when you know something big is in the offing, something huge. Cooper is excited again. And it's all because of the latest challenge to be put before this current Kerry team -- playing Dublin in an All-Ireland final.

"Everything that is different is a fresh challenge for guys," the six-time All-Star explained ahead of Sunday's mouth-watering football decider. "We have had Cork, we've had Mayo, different teams. But it's Dublin now. It's another challenge for the team. Going through your career that's exactly what you want -- new and fresh challenges.

"The fact that Dublin are a coming team and were one of the favourites at the start of the year, and the fact that this team hasn't played Dublin in an All-Ireland final all adds to it. And Dublin are a big draw anyway, whether it's the quarter-final or final. It's a big challenge."

Licking his lips at the prospect of this newest test -- incredibly, Cooper's eighth All-Ireland final in just 10 years -- the Dr Crokes club-man is confident that he can carry on the form that saw him shoot 1-7 in the semi-final against Mayo, and earned him yet more plaudits as the best in the business.

"Definitely, I felt that there was more in me but I didn't at any stage feel that my performance was bad," said Cooper, of his form in the run-up to the Mayo match.

"The first day against Tipp was fine, a solid enough performance. Solid against Limerick. Cork, a quieter game and probably didn't get on enough of the ball as I would have wanted. The Limerick game then was the kind of a game where it was over a long way out.

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"I never felt that my form was poor but certainly against Mayo, and in August and September, you really need to be razor-sharp. You feel your game coming together and I just hope now that there is another one in there."

And the Kerry captain acknowledges that the standards by which he is judged are different to everybody else because of what he has achieved before. Again, this doesn't faze him. "When you go out and kick 1-5 or 1-7, and do with it with any regularity, then that's what you're going to be expected to do in every game," Cooper said.

"I have set the bar pretty high over the last couple of years and if you don't reach those standards, then people start asking questions. Especially in a county like Kerry, where you are only as good as your last game."

But Dublin will do everything they can to negate Cooper's influence this Sunday and the AIB bank official is expecting that.

"It's my eighth All-Ireland final so I am expecting to be targeted. I have had to deal with that before. I will just go out and play my game and see how it goes," Cooper said.

"I am not too bothered by it. I don't see it as double-teaming and triple-teaming. I don't think that it's going to be that way. Dublin seem to get a lot of men back alright, but I don't think that two men are going to come in on me at the start of game and mark me."

When the two All-Ireland finalists clashed in the National League earlier this year -- a match that Dublin won with a late Bernard Brogan point -- it was an open match, as Cooper recalls, and he foresees a similarly close finish on Sunday. "It was a tight game, not much between the teams. It won't be as open the next day. The teams are very well matched and I don't see there being a big gap come the 70th minute. But we feel we have improved since then," he said.

And with Cooper counting down the hours until Sunday's All-Ireland decider, everything seems to be in place for the Kingdom to, once again, assume what the county feels is their natural position -- at the summit of the football world. Cooper knows it no other way.

Irish Independent

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