Friday 15 December 2017

Tomás Ó Sé: King of them all - Gooch deserved his happy ending

Even Kerry legend Mikey Sheehy agrees that Colm Cooper is the county’s greatest forward. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Even Kerry legend Mikey Sheehy agrees that Colm Cooper is the county’s greatest forward. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Tomas O Se

I had eight missed calls yesterday morning before the sleep was out of my eyes. My first thought was 'who is dead?'

When I put it all together that the Gooch had retired I wasn't surprised but I was still a little disappointed.

Over the last week or so I had heard the rumblings. I hopped the ball with a few lads who might know and asked them was he going to go. They reckoned he would but no one was sure. That's Gooch for you. The most likeable lad you'll meet but unknowable at the same time. You'd never get into it too deep with him.

Read more: Martin Breheny: Why Colm Cooper is the fifth greatest forward of them all

For the record I still think he had something to offer but the discussion has already started about where he ranks with the all-time greats. Put simply, he's the best forward I've ever seen. I include Maurice Fitzgerald, Pat Spillane, Mikey Sheehy and anyone else you care to name in that.

And I know Mikey agrees with me.

Cooper alongside Tomás Ó Sé at training in Killarney in 2009. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Cooper alongside Tomás Ó Sé at training in Killarney in 2009. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

When he came in as selector with Kerry he got to see him up close and he was amazed at just how good he was. Skill, vision, temperament and a willingness to work on his game all in the one package. How often does that come along? Even the great Mikey reckoned he wouldn't get near him.

Remember too that everything he did was measured against the greatest expectation you could imagine. Like everyone in Kerry expected him to be a player for the ages before he kicked a ball for the seniors.

The pressure under that spotlight must have been huge. And like Brian O'Driscoll, when so much was expected off him, he produced it time after time.

Read more: 'There was an orchestrated campaign against Lee Keegan' - Fitzmaurice fuming over 'lack of balance'

Colm Cooper celebrates scoring against Dublin in 2009. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Colm Cooper celebrates scoring against Dublin in 2009. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

I remember the first time I saw him. He was a skinny wee rake of maybe 14 or 15, pulling pints for me in 'Tatlers' in Killarney. I didn't know then he'd be winning me All-Irelands down the line. But he did. On the big day, there was never an issue with what you'd get from him. And years ago, when backs had to mind their own patch and do some real defending, he was close to unplayable.

He was the most naturally skillful and balanced player I played with, even more so than Maurice. I don't say that lightly, but the game came that easy to him. When he had the ball, he had all the time in the world. When you move like that, you can do what you want with it. And he usually did.

I know Joe Brolly called him a choker a few years ago. Joe is gas and sometimes I think he's just looking to ruffle a few feathers.

Look Gooch up online. You'll lose an hour watching those deft finishes, the clever little passes that were difficult to pull off and even harder to see. That vision is one of the reasons I put him on a higher plane than the rest. But he moved better, thought quicker and was twice as clinical as best of the rest too.

I have only one memory of picking him up in training. It was in Killarney on a hot evening. I wasn't meant to be on him but my man went up the field and Colm was nearest to me so I started to track him. Cute enough, he brought me in towards the goals. His neck of the woods you see.

Colm Cooper back in 2004. Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile
Colm Cooper back in 2004. Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile

He got a ball out in front and I made him turn so I was happy enough with myself. I was sure he was about to overplay it and I went to dive to make a block. He sold me a dummy and I'd say the ball was in the net before I hit the ground. It looked so bad there were five lads around me laughing when I got up. It bugged me for the evening.

So I could never get near him and I knew it. Marc and him had some great battles inside. When they were at their peak, it was great to watch them go at it. But give him half a chance and he'd make you look foolish. There are many around the country who can attest to that.

I'm glad he got to go out on a high, winning that club All-Ireland. I know he'll stay on with Crokes but a county career that yielded eight All-Stars in the modern era deserved that sort of sign-off.

I saw a lovely picture of him with his family afterwards. They are a great Crokes family and great people full stop. His brothers are steeped in Crokes. I knew his late father well and he was a lovely man. His mother was a lady. I remember some of his family would come up to Kerry training every night. If it was me I would have been telling my parents to go away and not be embarrassing me. But his family are his biggest fans and they are genuinely very close. St Patrick's day in Croke Park will have meant the world to them all.

Kerry's Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy celebrate after victory over Tyrone in 2012. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Kerry's Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy celebrate after victory over Tyrone in 2012. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile

Everyone else will see more of his personality now that he's away from Kerry and they might be surprised at what he's like. We toured Australia together and he's great company. I'm glad more people will get to see that now.

The love for Gooch in Kerry is different. Maybe it's because his game was always based on brain rather than brawn. Intelligence rather than power. Or maybe it's just that, as a person, he's never changed. The same quiet fella that pulled those pints was the same lad that pulled the strings for Kerry and Dr Crokes. I just hope he takes in the next few days and just absorbs the appreciation that's out there for him, not just in Kerry but throughout the country.

In football terms, he has no equal. For me, he's the king of them all.

PS Now is as good a time as any to set the record straight. Back in 2009, myself and Gooch hit the headlines for having a few pints after we escaped from Sligo in the qualifiers that year. We were dropped for the game with Antrim the next day out, but now that we're both gone I can say claims that we were drinking together were totally false.

He was drinking in Killarney, but I was at it in Dingle.

Twitter salutes The Gooch

Ronan O Gara, former Ireland rugby international

A footballing genius bows out. Bravo Gooch. You showed why brains and speed of thought always wins out.

Judy Murray, mother of tennis No 1 Andy Murray

Superstar. One of the most skilful, versatile athletes I ever saw. And a redhead. Perfect.

Brian O'Driscoll, former Irish rugby captain

What a footballer The Gooch has been. Unmarkable at his best. The greatest 'Two trick pony' you're ever likely to see... Been a pleasure

Bryan Cooper, jockey

Wishing the genius @colmcooper13 the very best in his retirement..By far the best cooper we will see come out of Kerry for a long time.

Mike Quirke, former Kerry footballer

Put Gooch in a phone box with a pack of wolves & he'd still hav the poise to hit 'em with a dummy solo & stroll out unscathed. The greatest.

Marc Ó Sé, ex-Kerry star

The greatest footballer I've ever seen play !Lots of sad boys in @thegreencbs today as they won't see their hero play for Kerry again.

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