Gooch deserves reward for his efforts, but are testimonials a step too far for amateur players?

Talking point

Former Kerry footballer Colm Cooper. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Liam Kelly

Colm 'Gooch' Cooper, one of the great Gaelic footballers, goes where no GAA player has gone before by having a Testimonial Dinner.

The event, backed by Zurich Insurance, and aimed at attracting 500 people to a black tie celebration with tables for ten costing €5,000, takes place on Friday, October 27, at the Intercontinental Hotel in Dublin.

Two charities will benefit from part of the proceeds - the Kerry Cancer Support Group and Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Dublin.

And yes, the Gooch will also benefit financially from the event, which, on the figures presented, can gross a minimum of €250,000.

Therein lies, as I put it to him at the launch in Zurich HQ yesterday, "the elephant in the room" as it is something out of left field from a GAA perspective.

How will Gaeldom in general, and former team-mates and the GPA view this initiative?

Ard Stiúrthóir of the GAA Páraic Duffy. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

"That will always be the elephant in the room," he said. "Like, the aim of the night wasn't to raise funds for Colm Cooper albeit that people might have different views on that. We wanted to have a GAA celebration because we've seen all these sporting stars in Ireland have these nights.

"We're saying, 'Well our GAA people are very much to the forefront of every community so why shouldn't we be doing if for our own people?' - so that's where it's kind of breaking ground a little bit. And obviously the charities were very much to the fore of it as well.

"I've been very, very fortunate in my career to get a lot of support from different people.

"This is a way of me giving back because I'm conscious that I'm probably old news already, but I will certainly be old news by 2018.

"This is probably me signing off. That's basically the reasons behind it."

Fundraisers have traditionally been utilised by teams, particularly successful counties, to earn money for holiday funds.

Ancillary bodies, such as supporters groups, regularly generate finance to assist counties with the expense of training teams throughout a league and championship season, but until now, nobody has thought to aim a fundraiser on this scale at one player.

How did it come about? Well, a friend of Colm's named Mick Culhane suggested it to him a few years ago, but the Gooch was playing at the time and retirement was something far away on the horizon. When the Kerry legend finally did make the break from football at the end of April this year, Culhane brought it up again.

Once there was to be a significant charity element, the Gooch was on board, but not before he had a chat with GAA director-general Páraic Duffy.

"The first person I met about it was Páraic Duffy (left, below) and I said, 'Look, this is what we're planning on doing, Páraic, and I understand it hasn't been done for a GAA player before', and we explained to Páraic what we're doing, and he had no issue with it whatsoever and I met him twice.

"You're right though, it hasn't been done for anyone with amateur status.

"My first question to Mick was, 'Do you really think we'll get 500 people to come to this? Particularly in Dublin for a Kerry person'.

"That was my main concern, to be honest, but Mick was quite confident," said Cooper.

The Kerry legend attended the testimonial events of Irish rugby heroes Brian O'Driscoll in Dublin, and Ronan O'Gara in Cork, and was impressed by the attendance of a wide cross-section of sporting interests.

"I suppose sometimes when you're involved in sport and in GAA, we only think of Kerry and we're in that bubble, but I think generally there's a huge appreciation and an admiration of sports people in Ireland that sometimes gets overlooked.

"That's why we wanted to make this a GAA thing. Whether it's breaking new ground or opening the door for this to happen more, I'm not quite sure.

"It appears that we'll have 500 people there on the night. Certainly it's something I'm excited about and looking forward to.

"The GAA don't have an issue with it, so hopefully it'll be fairly successful," he said.

The testimonial has its roots in professional sports, particularly in soccer.

Traditionally, prior to the advent of the Premier League and the huge contracts paid to players, it was a vehicle to provide long-serving, or injured, or retiring players, with a lump sum to set something up for themselves and their families when their career was over.

Testimonials still take place in top-level English soccer.

Irish star Niall Quinn famously awarded all the proceeds of his testimonial at Sunderland to charities.

Roy Keane also made significant donations to charity from his Manchester United testimonial, but, as was his right, he did not disclose the percentage amount that went to the good causes.

The Gooch does not know how much his chosen charities will receive until after the event, but he hopes to make a large donation to each of them.

"We've no idea what we'll raise.

"When it comes to charities and things like that people can be very supportive and very, very generous, so we'll have to wait and watch that," he said.