Tuesday 20 March 2018

Eoin Liston: 'Gooch' was Messi, Federer and Ruby all rolled into one

13 March 2011; Colm Cooper, Kerry. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 4, Kerry v Galway, Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, Co. Kerry. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
13 March 2011; Colm Cooper, Kerry. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 4, Kerry v Galway, Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, Co. Kerry. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

We were well warned about the genius of Colm 'Gooch' Cooper and he was never under the radar with Ger O'Driscoll, who played with Kerry and drove the young fellas from the south to training all the way up along, proclaiming 'wait till ye see this fella' when he was 16. By God, he certainly didn't disappoint.

If you're comparing the Gooch to sportspeople in other spheres I have no hesitation in saying that he's Ruby Walsh, Roger Federer and Lionel Messi all rolled into one - the most complete footballer I've ever had the pleasure to witness. I was listening to a radio piece once about shy people not liking the limelight and how it often leads to remarkable creativity whether it's in the field of poetry, writing, painting or sport, and Gooch's brilliance immediately sprang to mind.

His best form of communication was always in the big venues like Croke Park, Fitzgerald Stadium and Páirc Uí Chaoimh on big championship days; that's where he shone brightest and, like all greats, he had an uncanny ability to perform under extreme pressure.

He always looked like he was doing things in slow motion, somehow deciphering all the information around him in the blink of an eye and dealing with different situations, be it a precise pass, run or shot, like there was ice flowing through his veins, such was his sheer class.

He had an unparalleled football intelligence and was a true perfectionist. That meant he often demanded that same level from those around him and when he didn't get it you could see him getting cranky, his body language changed when someone wasn't on the same wavelength as him.

Gooch was so many steps ahead of others and something rarely discussed is the influence which basketball had on his career. He had a way of bouncing the ball and creating a yard for himself that no one else had.

Tomás and Páidí Sé had their own unique style of hopping the ball but the 'Gooch bounce', where fellas would be right on top of him and he'd do this hop and it was like he stepped back and magically pulled the trigger without being blocked down in tight situations, was special.

I was doing a coaching course a number of years back and I was trying to bring things out of the ordinary to it but I just couldn't explain this to the lads when I brought up the example of the Gooch. That part of his game was just impossible to coach.

I went to Colm once and asked him for help but he said the bounce was just something that happened automatically, he couldn't explain what he was doing. 'Bomber I'd love to explain it but it's not something I think about, it just happens.'

That is what the best have that the rest of us don't, they make things happen in the defining moments of games and whether it was throwing the hips, the bounce or soloing off right and left, he sold more dummies than Mothercare during his pomp.

He's absolutely adored and always will be in Kerry, when those around him were creating prose he was creating poetry and watching training a few years ago when he was at his peak, he's the only player I can remember getting standing ovations.

And that was in a great team with the likes of Tomás ó Sé and Declan O'Sullivan. But when Gooch did something the 400 or so people in attendance would stand up in unison. That just tells you the reverence they have for him, and such occasions were only reserved for Colm. When he worked on the counters with AIB in Tralee, it caused pandemonium because everyone wanted to get their business done at his kiosk. Some wouldn't even have an account there but they popped in just to get the great man's autograph.

What an ambassador for Kerry football and he always gave so much of his time doing all the things that those elite players should be doing and always had a moment for everyone. And even though he doesn't regard his All-Ireland medal from 2014, when he was injured, he played a massive role in the success.

Obsession Kieran Donaghy told me that when he picked up the short kick-out in the final against Donegal, all that came into his head at a vital stage of the match was a message from Gooch about finishing goal chances. He said, 'It's like everything slowed down, I waited for a split second and thought of what Gooch said and next thing the goalie went and I just passed it to the net.'

I was hoping he'd stay going but you come to a stage in your career when that total obsession that's needed to compete at this level goes and he probably made the right call for himself but from a Kerry point of view, while he mightn't have been starting every game, he still would have had a huge role to play.

I haven't seen a better forward in my time and that's including the likes of Mikey Sheehy, John Egan and Peter Canavan and I'm glad to have been around to witness him; that sort of player only comes around every 50 years. There's only one Gooch.

Irish Independent

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