By Brendan O'Brien.
Mayo’s unpredictability may well prove to be their greatest asset as they plot the downfall of Dublin on Sunday, according to Colm Cooper.
The former Kerry forward and Irish Examiner columnist questioned whether the Connacht county had gone to the well once too often on The Sunday Game earlier on in the championship but he has been impressed by their epic summer trek since.
He spoke yesterday of a side replete with talented and experienced performers and buoyed by their seminal defeat of Kerry. One that will be perfectly happy to sit on the sidelines this week as the country talks up Dublin as the greatest thing since sliced bread.
It’s been Mayo’s misfortune that they produced a side of such pedigree at a time when the game is being taken to new levels by another county but Cooper believes that Stephen Rochford’s penchant for the unexpected can close any perceived gap.
“I think so. Stephen and his management team have proven they can pull a rabbit from the hat and they are not afraid to make big decisions: be it the goalkeeper last year or Aidan O’Shea against Kerry. And they could pull another one on Sunday.
“Jim Gavin will be aware of that. I just think Mayo have a good chance going into the game.
“They could pull another one on Sunday. The big thing, when I look at Mayo against Dublin is that they’ve never folded against Dublin. They’ve always been highly competitive.”
Cooper talked of a potential Mayo “ambush” at the weekend. Unlike Tyrone, they are well equipped to take the game to the Dubs by pressing up on their kick-outs and trusting in the man-marking skills further back of players such as Keith Higgins and Lee Keegan. Sitting back, he said, is tantamount to surrender.
If Mayo win then, well, the whole country will raise a glass to them. Should Dublin pull through again, it will be the first three-in-a-row since Kerry banked one in 1986, and the rush to proclaim them the greatest team of all time will escalate into a stampede.
Talk of splitting the county in two is already doing the rounds again but Cooper isn’t adding to it.
“Do I think Dublin will win the next five All-Irelands? he asked. “I don’t. They could win this one, they could win the next one, but someone is going to come with a push and make the breakthrough ...I’m not foolish enough to think that’s going to go on forever.” Still, he knows consistency of excellence when he sees it. The Kerry team of which he was a part was the first in the county’s history to make six straight Septembers but he is keeping a lid on sweeping statements about Gavin’s side and their place in the annals.
“It’s dangerous talk coming up to a final. If I was Stephen Rochford and Mayo I’d be delighted with all this sort of talk going on around the place.
“I’m sure he’ll be planning his ambush and it would be a really sweet one for Mayo to win, given the exposure Dublin are getting for the way they are playing, and the levels they have reached.”
Part of him couldn’t help but think that he could have played a part in helping Kerry to take on both of them this summer but he stands by the signals his body was giving him and understands that the first year out will be the hardest.
Retirement has required adjustment.
He told a story about trying to drive up Jones’ Road and park behind the Croke Park Hotel before the Kerry-Galway and Mayo-Roscommon double-header (attendance: 65,746) and being politely redirected by a garda.
“All that has been a steep learning curve,” he laughed.
And he’s not the only Kerry man absorbing lessons this summer.
The All-Ireland semi-final replay loss to Mayo should have left no-one in the county under any illusions when it comes to the job at hand in the Kingdom and, like Paul Galvin and Marc Ó Sé, Cooper believes Éamonn Fitzmaurice should be the man tasked with doing it.
The incumbent has another year left on his current term but Cooper again echoed old teammates by suggesting that it will take more than a mere 12 months to refashion a Kerry side that has lost key players to Father Time, and with more likely to follow.
“Does Éamonn have the energy for another three years? It will take a bit of time and if he is going to do it, it might take a couple of years,” said Cooper.
“But I am not the man who makes that decision. The county board and executive will sit down over that and I am sure we will hear about it soon because the county championship is up and running in Kerry and they will want to put this to bed for 2018. Watch that space.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.