Friday 20 April 2018

Hunger has returned for Cooper and Kingdom

Damian Lawlor

Colm Cooper has taken more punishment this season than ever before but he has never been one to complain on that front.

Since making his bow back in 2002, he has always being singled out for attention. It never seems to matter though and in 59 championship games he has scored 16-192.

Another season of being hit late and cheaply isn't what the game's top forward necessarily wants and while he accepts it comes with the territory, there's an appealing idealism to his view of Gaelic football.

"I know I'm being naive here, but I would just love to go out this morning and play on one man," he says. "You take him on, he marks you. Have six backs against six forwards and see who comes out on top. It would be great just to get out on the field and play your natural game but I know I'm being innocent in talking like that.

"The fact is that modern Gaelic football is all about mass defence. We even play it ourselves at times without realising it. The whole game has become very structured and it's not just the likes of Dublin -- most teams are playing that zonal style. Teams spend so many hours on preparation that they feel they have to go operate this system to almost guarantee a low concession of scores."

But he doesn't know what can be done about it. "Everything should be open to debate," he reckons.

"I don't know if bringing it back to 13-a-side is the answer. Maybe restricting handpassing is one solution -- it's not the most attractive game to watch when you have 10 or 11 handpasses flying around. High fielding is gone now as well -- go through a game and see how many clean balls are caught at midfield; the guys with those great skills are not being given an advantage. But look, I'm not here to change rules. I'm not the president."

He is, however, Kerry captain, and intent on making up for last year's defeat to Down.

"We were all pretty low after Down -- lads wondered where we'd go from there. Did we train hard enough? Did I put in the effort I should have? But then the dust settles, you find that hunger again and we feel we have the players to go on and challenge for the All-Ireland. Things are better this season.

"I found it hard to sit through last year's final," he adds. "We'd been there for six years in a row, so it was hard to take. Every year, you'd have the third Sunday in September pencilled into your diary with the idea that you'd hopefully be in Dublin."

Despite his relaxed demeanour, it would be wrong to underestimate his relentless hunger for titles and trophies. When it's put to him that missing out on this year's league final was no big deal in the grand scheme of things, he replies: "You're words, not mine."

"I don't know if I am a bad loser, but I don't like losing. I think you have to go out with a fear of losing. Playing with that edge, that fear of defeat, you play with that fear inside you. Sometimes that gives you an adrenaline rush. It focuses your mind that little bit more. That's something that has been in my make-up from the start."

This afternoon, Kerry kickstart their Munster championship against Tipperary and you sense from Cooper that a provincial title is the first step in their recovery.

"People say we're in transition as well, but you don't listen to all that. We're not in transition -- no team could replace Tadhg (Kennelly), Tommy (Walsh), Darragh ó Sé or those guys. Even in Kerry people feel you can replace those guys but I know you can't. The expectation is that big. That said, I do genuinely feel that we have 30 players to win an All-Ireland.

"But there was this big inquest after the under 21s lost heavy to Cork. The alarm bells were ringing loudly and locals were wondering what was going on, saying that we have nothing coming through, that Kerry would be finished once we were gone. I don't think it's as bad as that. I've been involved in teams that have been hammered but you can't just wash your hands with those under 21 lads. All we need is three or four to come through.

"We're from a county lucky enough produce some of great players in the GAA but you can't always replace them. I met Mick O'Connell coming out of a game recently. To follow the likes of him and Seamus Moynihan and then expect to have similar players coming around the corner -- it's unrealistic. Nothing in the past guarantees the future. Like, the fact that we made six All-Ireland finals in a row means absolutely nothing now."

This afternoon he begins his 10th championship and jokes that with the captain's armband on his sleeve it's about time he started growing up. Truth is he grew up in front of our very eyes. The public baptism didn't faze him and no matter what defenders throw at him as this year unfolds it will most likely have no great impact either.

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