Thursday 19 September 2019

'Things could have gone the other way' - how injury forced Jonny Cooper to start from the bottom

Injury forced Jonny Cooper to start from the bottom and claw his way back again

Dublin's Jonny Cooper. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin's Jonny Cooper. Photo: Sportsfile

John Brennan

Jonny Cooper's inter-county football season will end today as most of them have ended - with an appearance in the All-Ireland final. But there were many days and weeks in 2019 when the Dublin defender wondered if that would be so, and it had nothing to do with the opposition that the likes of Mayo, Kildare, Meath or anyone else might provide.

For Cooper, this year's Leinster championship was a wasteland as a foot injury, ironically sustained during club month in April, stubbornly refused to heal. And the longer you are out of Jim Gavin's team . . . well, Cooper didn't need to be reminded of the possible consequences.

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"If you're not around for whatever reason, you obviously miss out on training time so yeah, I just had to bide my time and be patient and just do the work the medical team gave me and keep my head down," he says.

"You obviously see it from both sides, when you are injured, but you have to have patience at the same time. You're losing time very quickly, very rapidly, particularly as selections go on. I stayed smart and just hoped the lads would keep winning games and that I'd get an opportunity to get back in the squad.

"It was just the area in the leg that it was at, it was harder to get blood supply (to it) and harder for me just staying off it, I guess if it was your arm or your shoulder that would be a bit easier to heal."

If Cooper needed any warning about his status as fitness gradually returned back in early July, it came with a few appearances on the 'B' team in Dublin's A v B training matches.

"I didn't deserve in this case to be on the first team, others were there while I was out injured and that was that," he says candidly. "So you just start from the bottom, try to claw your way back. Obviously I was doing stuff when the lads were training, on and off the pitch, just trying to maintain some level of ball work and skills, as much as I could. But yeah, I was down the pecking order."

Cooper admits that playing on the B team was tough for him mentally, never mind the physical effort of being a bit behind the rest of the lads. "It's a tricky one in terms of trying to funnel your own energy into the B team as opposed to yourself. Jim will spot that as well - if you're selfish around things and a little bit tunnel-visioned. But I definitely found a lot of learning in it in terms of coming at it from a different angle or perspective."

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Yet surely after all this time, being a second-team player was hard. "It was different, for sure. But I really enjoyed it in a strange way as well, it brought me back to around the time of Pat Gilroy, (who dropped a young Cooper from the Dublin panel). I've said it many times, what happened back then gave me a real good value in terms of trying to get on the team and what I thought it would be like.

"In a strange way the injury was kind of like that again, trying to prove myself to myself and hopefully the management would then pick me. I think I got a lot from it as well - you realise that things could have gone the other way for me and I could have been sitting on the bench, or not even on the squad."

It was always unlikely that a fit Cooper would suffer that fate. Ever since being appointed captain of the Dublin under 21s in 2010 by Jim Gavin, the Na Fianna player has been a mainstay of Gavin's Dublin teams. Most managers, in all codes, have a small core of players in whom they invest their deepest trust and Cooper surely has a place in Gavin's elite crew.

Cooper is going for a sixth All-Ireland medal today, so is well versed in coping with the build-up. At this stage he is fairly set in his routine for the last few days before the game. "It's nothing too crazy, just sitting around waiting for the game. I try to take Friday off work and in general I avoid people. Then as the game gets closer you're just trying to surround yourself with the lads, and maybe also close family and friends, and just leave it at that. Some lads have different routines, lads might go to gigs in terms of music or what not. It depends on different lads.

"In fairness to my family, they don't bother me at all. It's sort of been like that since I started. I'm very lucky in that sense, my family know what's involved in the occasion and what comes with it.

"Also at the same time it's a serious game, but it's a game. It's important to me but either way you wake up on the Monday morning after and you try to do something that day."

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