Sunday 17 December 2017

'Gooch' gets the medal he wanted most but Kingdom call will wait

Colm Cooper sheds tears of joy as he celebrates Dr Crokes’ victory over Slaughtneil seconds after the final whistle. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Cooper sheds tears of joy as he celebrates Dr Crokes’ victory over Slaughtneil seconds after the final whistle. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

It's over an hour since Colm Cooper lifted a nagging monkey off his back when he's accosted for a quick word in Croke Park's corridors before departing a train to Killarney, and the emotion is still visible on his face for all to see.

As one of the greatest and most successful footballers of the modern era, 'Gooch' has made no bones about an All-Ireland club SFC title with Dr Crokes being the title he sought most.

And a decade after losing his first final, and returning from a potentially career-ending injury three years ago, he's fighting back the tears.

"We've been up, we've been down, we've lost, we've come close, we've had setbacks, we've had injuries. We've had it all," he said.

"To win out there, and I know it wasn't vintage Dr Crokes by any manner, but sometimes they're games you just have to win.

"This was on my radar. I've come close. I've lost finals, I've lost semi-finals, I've done my cruciate. I didn't know if I'd get a chance again so that makes it more pleasing and more satisfying for me having that ticked off.

"To do it with the guys that I've soldiered so long with and that I grew up with and went to school with, look, how can you describe that?

"And to hear Maurice Deegan blow that final whistle, it was just 'wow,' like. To meet friends and family afterwards. . .I just don't think words can describe how I'm feeling right now. It's relief, it's joy. It's a lot of things.

"The injury was an incredibly low point, I didn't know whether I'd even get back to play with Kerry never mind win an All-Ireland club with Dr Crokes. It flashed through my mind for sure.

"That's where these guys have hung in and cajoled me along."

Twenty-five years after being a mascot for the Dr Crokes side which lifted their first All-Ireland club title, Cooper hit the all-important goal which separated his side from a brave Slaughtneil effort, but there will be no decision made on his Kerry future just yet.

"I haven't, to be honest," he said when asked if he has thought about his Kingdom return. "I've pretty much poured everything into this since we lost to Dublin out here in the semi-final last year.

"I spoke with Eamonn (Fitzmaurice) at Christmas. I said, 'ye do your thing, I'll do my thing and we'll chat when the Crokes journey is over'. I envisage that we'll talk in the next week or so and thrash it out and I'm sure we'll come to the right conclusion."

With Cooper likely to be handed the option to skipper Kerry in 2017, retirement will surely be delayed as he could cement his legendary status by captaining an All-Ireland-winning side - and almost as importantly, ending Dublin's three-in-a-row dream.

Acceptance speeches are often a bore, but Johnny Buckley's had a touch of class to it as he called on ten-year-old Amy O'Connor, "an absolute inspiration" who is battling cancer, to lift the Andy Merrigan Cup, encapsulating everything club finals on St Patrick's Day represent.

Another special moment was Cuala's coronation as All-Ireland club hurling kingpins, the first side from the capital to do so, as the unheralded John Sheanon reduced former Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly to a bystander as Ballyea failed to raise a gallop on the big day.

Sheanon's assessment of himself will tug the heart-strings of many a club player.

"I wouldn't be the most skilful hurler myself, but I've been asked to do that job since the first game and I've no problem doing it. I probably wouldn't get into the team if I didn't do that man-marking job," he said.

As for manager Mattie Kenny, the glue that has kept Cuala together, his hurling obsession is aptly described by Paul Schutte, who said: "I've never met anyone like him. Just the finest details. We were going up against Slaughtneil for our warm-up and we got the bus up there so we could get an idea.

"He sent a text saying 'we've got cars coming behind just in case the bus breaks down'. I can't speak highly enough of him."

Fairytales realised, fairytales broken, another magical day.

Irish Independent

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