It mighn’t come against Monaghan but tomorrow will mark 575 days since Colm Cooper last wore the Kerry jersey, producing that mesmeric first half of the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin.
His comeback date has been delayed because he has pushed himself too hard but it’s coming and the sport can’t wait. Here are 10 reasons exactly why:
Had Donegal’s Zacchaeus in the tree seen inside Fitzgerald Stadium that evening last September, he’d have witnessed Cooper moving freely and running the show. “Training lifted two levels,” recalled James O’Donoghue of Cooper’s impact, “he’s disgusting!”
Cooper didn’t play any part of Dr Crokes’ league game against Milltown-Castlemaine last weekend but today’s clash with Waterville appears a better fit. However, he did score 1-6 in a St Patrick’s Day A versus B in-house game and all reports suggest he hasn’t lost any of his magic.
How many times was news of Cooper’s cruciate injury 13 months ago compared to a tragedy in Kerry? One of his former county team-mates likened it to a death notice every time he heard it on the radio.
After the diagnosis in Dublin, Eamonn Fitzmaurice asked himself what he had done to deserve such a setback. Henry Shefflin’s return from injury as a substitute against Tipperary in 2013 was greeted in Nowlan Park with cheers and screams. Imagine what it will be like when Cooper makes his comeback.
You wonder just how more powerful Colm O’Neill would be were he provided the service from a player like Cooper at centre-forward. In 2013, Cooper at Number 11 and O’Donoghue in Cooper’s old inside role played just four games (all championship) but scored a combined total of 4-27.
It was Cooper’s ultra-incisive pass which found Donnchadh Walsh to set up O’Donoghue’s first goal against Dublin that year.
The more time they spend on the field together the more dangerous Kerry will be.
At Shefflin’s retirement announcement this past week, Kilkenny chairman Ned Quinn stated the player missed out on two league titles because of injury. For similar reasons, Darragh Ó Sé didn’t play in the 2004 All-Ireland final yet it is counted as an honour. Cooper was on the bench last September against Donegal but didn’t want a medal.
“I wouldn’t be looking for one anyway,” he said a month after the final. “I don’t feel I deserve one, no, no.” Nobody will be hungrier in the Kerry panel.
Upon his inter-county retirement in 2013, Tomás Ó Sé fancied his all-time record of 88 championship appearances would be broken by a team-mate. Had Cooper been injury-free last year and played all five games, he would be just seven shy of Ó Sé’s total.
Marc Ó Sé is currently eight short of his brother. Turning 32 in June, Cooper’s body as much as his football mind could sustain him for another three seasons possibly more.
There were some pretty ridiculous calls for Cooper to be awarded the footballer of the year award in 2013. While that performance against Dublin was epic and he had a fine Munster final, it was not enough to warrant the highest personal accolade.
However, it’s quite something that he’s yet to receive the honour. It might be argued in 2012 Karl Lacey, as good as he was, picked up a “career” player of the year when Colm McFadden appear a more suitable recipient. There is a strong possibility Cooper may benefit from something similar should he again be shortlisted.
Were Cooper to retire this morning, his career would read like a dream. Dr Crokes’ failure to win an All-Ireland club final remains an itch to scratch as does maybe beating a Tyrone or Donegal in Croke Park.
There are too many permutations for that to happen but Cooper can in his own imitable way answer the barbs from the north. Joe Brolly has on a number of occasions questioned his leadership while Martin McHugh’s “two-trick pony” jibe last year was wide of the mark. Cooper might forgive but he doesn’t forget.
At the funeral of Cooper’s mother Maureen last August, chief celebrant Fr Kevin McNamara said in his eulogy the player’s “second coming” (his words) would be like nothing ever seen with the aid of her memory. The loyalist of her son’s supporter throughout his career, Mrs Cooper is sure to provide inspiration to him this year.
If we didn’t know better we might think there was a masochistic streak in Cooper in how he chose to do his rehab work as Kerry trained towards an All-Ireland title last year. He might have enjoyed the summer away but instead completed his recovery work on evenings the panel had sessions in Fitzgerald Stadium.
“That was just a choice I had to make myself and for me,” he said. “I needed to get back involved. I was away long enough.” If he harnesses that frustration, he might just be unstoppable.
For such a young squad, there remains generous sprinkling of multiple All-Ireland winners. Cooper, Kieran Donaghy, Paul Galvin and Darran O’Sullivan all have four All-Ireland medals each.
Where Galvin might end up on the field remains a question but Kerry could effectively start with four of the forward line that started the 2009 All-Ireland final and that excludes Donaghy, who came on as a substitute that day.
Cooper led that pack.