Colm Cooper, the standout footballer of his generation, has questioned the amount of rules tinkering taking place in Gaelic games at the moment, suggesting that if the current laws were enforced, then most problems would be solved.
In light of the recommendations of the Football Review Committee earlier in the week, the Kerry star did admit that cynicism needed to be tackled as it was a major problem right now. But he warned that any changes must be subject to a trial period before Congress has its say.
“I was reading something in the paper about there being 18 rule changes. I haven’t seen too much of them but 18 seems like a lot, really. In the 11 years I’ve been involved with Kerry, there’s been at least some sort of rule change every year. That’s a lot too. They are trying to make the game a better spectacle and I understand that and there probably is a little bit of cynicism. They are just trying to take the correct measures but they’ve to make sure before implementing these rules, that they experiment with them. You don’t know how they’ll make the game look. They can’t bring them into the game full-time without that. They are trying their best but there is a bit of overkill and if the rules that are there, if it was policed in the right way, I think the players would be happy enough with that.”
Cooper admitted that he wasn’t sure about the idea of a mark for kick-outs won clean but it wasn’t his only worry. The 29-year-old noted that the problem with being forced into a substitution for a yellow card was two-fold. Firstly there was the issue of a soft caution ending a player’s game. And secondly, when it was put to him that a corner-back might target a blue-chip forward in the hope of retaliation, he stated: “You’d hate to see guys trying to take advantage of it, but if there was a window of opportunity there, then I’m sure guys would use it.”
The Dr Crokes player was speaking in Dublin yesterday ahead of his club’s trip to London to face Tir Chonaill Gaels in the AIB All-Ireland quarter-final. Interestingly, in Cooper’s first eight inter-county championships, he played until the end of September seven times. But while twice in the last three seasons, Kerry’s involvement has ended by the first week of August, Cooper said that he’s still looking forward to a break from football, however brief.
“It’s mental, more than anything. There’s been pressure on every game we’ve played in the last number of weeks. It’d be great just to give the mind and the whole lot a rest… The club game is nearly at an inter-county level when you come down to this stage. When you come through county and even the provincial championships, teams might have 10 or 12 very good players but mightn’t be strong in a couple of areas. Look at how solid teams are now though, there are very few weak links. The level has gone up and up, the standard is extremely high. Even the professionalism of teams, the training they are doing. You’d be hearing things about others and even the amount of work our lads put in — contrast that with five, six, seven years ago, it’s completely different.”
But if the standard is reaching out and clawing at inter-county levels, the tactics have gone their own unique way. Crossmaglen are still the best advertisement for total football and Cooper smiles as he says he could see them holding their own in Division Two or Three of the league. But with Crokes playing such an expansive game too, and Ballymun and St Brigid’s easy on the eye, you ask Cooper why club football is seen by many as more entertaining now than the county game.
“It’s true, I’ve noticed the difference. The thing about inter-county is it’s kind of win at all costs. Every team is playing to a structure and a system and if you don’t conform, you won’t be playing. I find anyway when I go back to the club, you’ve a little bit more freedom in what you are doing and you can come in and tease things out a little bit more. I won’t say control, but you’ve a little bit more freedom doing what you do and where you play and where you see yourself as a player and where you can influence the game. At inter-county level it’s so structured and rigid, you mightn’t have that.
“So it’s refreshing to come back to the club. You’re going back into a new set-up and are trying to win a different competition. That’s why the tiredness didn’t come into it as much even this late in the year. There’s a little more freedom and it’s a little bit more relaxed than the county set-up. In our club we do everything and train hard but it’s a little bit of a different environment so you can enjoy it more and do your own thing a little more. That keeps you fresh.”
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