Tuesday 20 February 2018

'Every single county is out to get us' - Dublin's Jonny Cooper wary ahead of Championship

Jonny Cooper helped Dublin GAA and sponsors AIG Insurance officially launch the new Dublin jersey
Jonny Cooper helped Dublin GAA and sponsors AIG Insurance officially launch the new Dublin jersey
Jonny Cooper was on hand to help Dublin GAA and AIG Insurance launch the new Dublin jersey. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.

It's an old adage but one Jonny Cooper and his Dublin team-mates keep fresh in the mind as expectations in the capital reach fever pitch ahead of their back-to-back All-Ireland bid.

They're already warm-order favourites to become the first team to win consecutive Sam Maguires since Kerry, in 2006/'07 - despite the high-profile departure of All-Star duo Rory O'Carroll and Jack McCaffrey.

Everything is rosy in the garden and after completing four league titles in a row, Jim Gavin's side are now being billed as invincible. But it's a familiar position to 2014 when Donegal stunned the reigning champions.

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Dublin manager Jim Gavin

There hasn't been a hint of complacency since with Gavin's mentality always demanding more from his troops. "If you are complacent you won't play for this team," the Na Fianna defender Cooper said.

"That's the way I approach it anyway. You want that jersey and you want to be as humble and hungry as possible in going about your business. If you do that with Jim you are in with a decent shot.

"2014 was a bit of a warning shot that if you're not in any way right on the day... I don't think it was one particular player or thing but I just thought we didn't bring enough energy that particular day and we got caught.

"Every other single county is out to get us, no more than anyone else. We have to be as sharp as we can be or we're going to be caught. That's what happened two years ago."

Their domination of Leinster, winning 10 of the last 11 titles, means Cooper meets people on a daily basis who laud the efforts of the all-conquering Dubs. But as a player you must quickly refocus or you'll be left in the dust.

Regularly hearing of your greatness, and that of your team-mates, and being put up on a pedestal isn't good for your psyche. "You talk to people about it but the shutters are very much pulled down when the conversation is gone," he said.

"A lot of people do say that and do want to ask you about it but it comes back to the intrinsic motivation that is there. If you want to listen to the plaudits or take the claps on your back you will fall behind fairly quickly."

Minus two of their defensive linchpins, the 26-year-old doesn't feel added pressure but he does feel pressure. As a corner-back you always have to play right on the edge and he thrives on the big-match butterflies.

"I feel it is a good pressure because of the position. The position I play, if you're not razor sharp or you're not on your toes or you're not being prodded a little bit, all the time, you can go through the motions, so to speak," he said.

"So the position I play, the pressure is good because it keeps your head up and it keeps you alert. And that's when I find I express myself the best, in that type of environment, that type of atmosphere."

Jonny Cooper

If Cooper and the Dubs do scale the Hogan Stand steps in September they would surpass the great Dublin team of the 1970s and Gavin would match Kevin Heffernan as a three-time All-Ireland-winning manager.

Many feel the Dubs boss doesn't get the credit he deserves with Cooper quick to acknowledge that his example gives them the responsibility to go out and continuously deliver on the pitch.

"Jim wants us to express our individuality and express our talents that have got us onto the team in the first place. He doesn't want robots on the pitch, as such," he said.

"I just think Jim obviously sits back and makes the right calls for the team, or certainly tries to do from the line, and that's his way of going about it. Maybe he's not getting the credit - I don't know. I don't think he wants the credit either.

"And he wants us to be empowered on the field of play and make a decision, because at the end of the day that's who's going to be on the front line, his players. That has served us well in the past, and hopefully will do."

Cooper was on the terrace when Dublin faced Longford in Pearse Park in 2006, their last championship tie away from Croke Park, and much fanfare surrounds their trip to Nowlan Park on June 4.

Cooper has never played football in the Kilkenny venue before but, interestingly, he has represented the Dublin minor hurlers there. And he doesn't have any intention of letting it take his eyes off the prize.

"For everyone else it's going to be new but for us it's work as usual," he said.

"It's up to everyone else to row their own boat. And that's what we do, certainly."

Irish Independent

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