Monday 22 January 2018

Skipper Cooper puts friendships on hold ahead of U-21 decider

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

FRIENDLY fire was the order of the day around Dublin City University this week -- as in good-natured ribbing.

Otherwise, it was a case of polite smiles and a casual nod as student members of All-Ireland U-21 finalists Donegal and Dublin played it cool in advance of tonight's decider in Cavan (7.0).

Dublin skipper Jonny Cooper from Na Fianna and Donegal senior star Michael Murphy are two of the DCU lads involved in the game, and though they attended Wednesday's media launch, their friendship has been put on hold for a few days.

Cooper said: "There are another two Donegal lads in my class that I haven't really spoken to this week -- Anton McFadden and Michael Boyle, the senior goalkeeper.

"That's the way it has to be going into the final."

All-Ireland titles are a rarity in both counties these days, and though the U-21 grade is aimed at bridging the gap between minor and senior football, any national trophy would be welcome in Dublin or Donegal.

Cooper would love to be only the second Dublin skipper to hoist the Clarke Cup, emulating Alan Brogan of the 2003 team.

He had a personal interest in that campaign as his older brother, Niall, played on that side, which was the first Dublin team to win an All-Ireland U-21 championship.

"Niall played wing-back as well. I suppose going to those matches at that time gave me a bit of experience of what it is like to win that title.

"And living with him in the house he would have passed on a lot of that experience. I'm just delighted to be at the same stage he was at," said Cooper.

Dublin had some close shaves en route to the decider, particularly in the games against Louth and Carlow, where they went to extra-time before winning by six points and one point respectively.

"The first game against Louth, we went to extra-time. I don't know how we got out of there alive to be honest, and same again against Carlow in the second game.

"And then Westmeath had very high hopes in the Leinster final -- we saw that in the support that they brought to Parnell Park. They really out-numbered us.

"Some of them will go on to be the nucleus of their senior team, and, really, the goal in the last couple of minutes gave us that cushion to push on and, ultimately, win the match.

"Then again, Roscommon in the semi-final had high ambitions coming out of Connacht.

"Scoring a couple of early goals in that match gave us a cushion. We are counting our blessings to be honest."

Both teams have sons of famous All-Ireland winning fathers in their squads -- Dean Rock, son of Barney, for the Dubs, and Mark McHugh, son of Martin McHugh, in the Donegal panel.

It is an intriguing contest, and Donegal boss Jim McGuinness, a former county star, revealed that his team surpassed even their own early expectations.

"At the start of the year when we got them together, I said 'we're going to win the Ulster Championship' and a couple of players in the circle started laughing.

"They have gone from that low base to building confidence through performances, which is the best way to build confidence.

"They have proven to themselves that they are able to compete and they aren't going to get too far ahead of themselves, which is the most important thing," said McGuinness.

The Donegal manager and his players gained their first kudos with a notable victory over Armagh, last year's beaten Ulster finalists, in their first outing. "It was a great game of football and we were lucky to come out of it with a victory.

"We treat every game like it's the All-Ireland final and we have managed to gradually build up our momentum.

"It's great for the players because they are moving forward, there's not long between games and you can keep them focused," he said.

Irish Independent

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