Where was he? “About 10 rows back in the Hogan Stand, sitting on my own. Seeing all the boys celebrating and wishing I was out there with them.”
Captain of Dublin’s U21 All-Ireland winning team in 2010, his ascension to the senior team wasn’t as smooth as that of Rory O’Carroll or James McCarthy who also featured on that team that beat Donegal.
“In reality, I wasn’t good enough. That’s fair enough. For whatever reason, I wasn’t good enough to make it then. It was motivating me from then on. Looking out at the guys – I would have known a handful of them – obviously I was overjoyed for them. It would have been a motivating factor for me from then on.”
He didn’t see Bryan Cullen in Coppers that evening. Never gave himself the chance as he opted to stay in and watch The Sunday Game with his mother.
“Listen, it was their party, it wasn’t my party. They deserved all the success and everything that went with it. I stayed at home.”
He made his debut under Pat Gilroy last year but didn’t last long in the panel. Jim Gavin, having made him his U21 captain in 2010, knew the Na Fianna man’s capabilities and stuck with him. The fortitude he showed to recover from a terrible start against Kildare this summer highlighted what the manager had seen in him.
Being in a full-back line where he is the joint eldest at 24 on a team which needs no reminding of pushing forwards has its challenges.
“Certainly it is different,” he says. “I like to think of it in that it sharpens you that bit more. There isn’t a safety net there, there’s no wing-forward or full-forward coming back to sit in front of you and cover an extra run. You have to cover it yourself, there’s not room for a slip or a little bit of an error. That puts that bit more pressure on you. But I think the guys inside welcome that challenge. We’re defenders after all and it’s an art. A forward’s job is to kick the ball over the bar and our job is to defend.
“Whether that’s covering a man or making a tackle, whatever that job turns out to be. We’re well used to it at this stage. It’s certainly a lot different but we’ve all bought into it and it’s something we believe in.
“Jim has placed that trust in us whereby if it’s a high ball coming in, you’re not just breaking it down aimlessly or punching it aimlessly. Now there’s an extra dimension to it.”
Cooper didn’t hear Jimmy Keaveney’s comments about him and Kevin O’Brien being “a wee bit dodgy” before the Kerry game but was angry in being part of a defence which leaked three first-half goals.
“When we look at the match, there will be a lot of people putting their hand up and saying: ‘I should have been there, I should have done that.’
“That’s what we’ve bought into. We have to take responsibility and we know that giving up 3-11 isn’t going to be good enough.”
It was only after the game he heard he was fortunate to stay on the pitch after tripping Colm Cooper having already picked up a yellow card. That first caution he takes issue with.
“There are so many pulls and drags and things that go on and sometimes it just seems like it’s the backs who get done for it. You don’t often see a forward singled out.”
Cooper says the 2011 players have advised the less experienced team-mates how to fill their time ahead of Sunday.
Not that he himself needs any advice — a masters in exercise physiology with a thesis on agility in Gaelic football is keeping him occupied away from the field. He will dedicate some time towards studying the opposition too and is keen to pit himself against Cillian O’Connor who is recovering from a shoulder problem.
“I hope he plays. He’s certainly one of the best and he’s been shooting the lights out all year.
“I hope he recovers and gets his shirt.”
He doesn’t care what motivation Mayo have going into the game. Avoiding back-to-back final defeats will be one of them anyway.
“I think that’s their own ship that they have to sail. If they want to put that pressure on themselves, that’s fine, that’s what they’re doing.”