Tuesday 24 April 2018

Cooper still on a learning curve with Dubs after 2011's false start

Cooper: Hoping to make his mark
Cooper: Hoping to make his mark
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Should Jonny Cooper start against Kildare tomorrow, it will be his 10th consecutive game to run out for Dublin across league and championship.

It's no mean feat, considering the new levels of competitiveness in the Dublin defence this time around. Between last year's All-Ireland semi-final defeat and this year's championship opener, Dublin have used nine players in the six defensive positions. Cian O'Sullivan also comes back into the mix this weekend, while we're told Ger Brennan is edging closer.

Getting a position at all seems like and achievement and it makes Cooper's 10 successive starts all the more impressive but Jim Gavin has always liked something in the Na Fianna man.

Back in 2010, he handed him the captaincy of the Dublin U21 side that would claim All-Ireland honours. And when Cooper approached his manager about playing from early in the year, Gavin obliged.

"Some lads use January to get themselves right and in better physical condition but I asked Jim for some games and he gave me a bit of game-time during the O'Byrne Cup," Cooper revealed.

"We got a couple of games in that and from there it gave me a platform to get into the league squad and team. I'm enjoying it so far."

It hasn't always been straight forward for Cooper. He was one of the new faces drafted in the year after Dublin secured their breakthrough All-Ireland title under Pat Gilroy in 2011. All seemed to be going well as he made his championship debut off the bench against Louth.

But after that he fell away. Confidence dropped and he was swallowed whole by a host of other faces crying out for game time. Even though he appears to be one of Gavin's on-field lieutenants these days, it's a lesson he still applies now.

"I wasn't good enough and I wasn't there," he says of his false start with the Dubs.

"And that's quite clear for me. I had a lot of things to work on, as I do now.

"But I would have had Jim at underage so I would have had two or three years of Jim before the senior set-up. So I suppose in a way I was used to his operation and the way in which he worked.

"And I had a brief relationship with him prior to the senior campaign. At the end of the day it is all earned. You're given the opportunity when and if it's earned. I think it's the same with all guys." Kildare are on the horizon now. Cooper has known more good times than bad in a Dublin shirt but he had a shaky opening the last time the Lilies rolled into town in 2013.

It was just Cooper's second start in the championship for the Dubs and Kildare got off to a flier.

Cooper slipped to let Paddy Brophy in for an early 1-1 but both he and Dublin recovered their composure to run out clear winners.

"Naturally enough, I would have been hard on myself," he recalls. "But I suppose when you reflect and step away from it, you know, I just slipped for a goal and one or two other points he got off me. I suppose I'd analyse it in the way I would any other type of game. Obviously, it didn't help that he scored, the guy I was marking. He got a bit off me, but it didn't affect me too much.

"I just had to try to prove to Jim that I was worthy for a spot the next day, so that was the challenge.

"I'd like to think I've grown from experience over the last number of years - maybe since that particular game.

"But there would be no guarantee, anything can happen - you just try to set up the way you set up and implement what I can do personally, control what I can."

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