Notwithstanding that criticism in 2013, the team claimed an All-Ireland title. Two years on and, while that honour wasn’t retained last season, the reputation of the penultimate line of defence could hardly be better.
Jonny Cooper’s form in a triumvirate that includes Rory O’Carroll and Philly McMahon has played a large part in Dublin’s meanness: Just four goals have been conceded in nine games this year. Their average score conceded per game in 2015 is 0-12.
It was against Kildare two years ago that doubts were raised about Cooper, when Paddy Brophy took him for 1-2 in the early stages. He’s hardly put a foot wrong since. “Naturally enough, I would have been hard on myself, but I suppose when you reflect and step away from it, you know, I just slipped for a goal and one or two other points he got off me.
“Yeah, I suppose I’d analyse it in the way I would any other type of game. Obviously, it didn’t help that he scored, the guy I was marking. He got a bit off me, but it didn’t affect me too much. I just had to try to prove to Jim [Gavin] that was I was worthy for a spot the next day, so that was the challenge.”
Cooper was aware about what was being said and written about the full-back line.
“I wouldn’t say we were trying to do poorly on any given day. We try to go out and perform and pull ourselves together and everything else and the sense of unity has always been there, but I think over the last number of years we’ve just become a lot more conscious of it. Obviously, we’ve maybe all developed as players and maybe there’s a bit more experience there. Trying to bring all that together in the last year or two... you’re telling me that we’ve improved, I don’t know if we have, but we’re just trying our best on any given day to counteract what’s been put up against us.”
Cooper may be playing coy. The statistics indicate a major jump in Dublin’s defensive performances, particularly the drop in the number of goals they have been conceding.
“Yeah, I think we’re conscious of that. If we don’t learn from our past experiences and past games, be it defeats or wins, then conceding goals is a big part of playing the game and, yeah, we do take pride in it. It’s our patch. Forwards try to score and we try to defend. The art of defending is a skill and that’s our skill.”
Against Donegal, Cooper and his full-back comrades were left stranded by those in front of them, so Dublin have been more mindful of what’s going on behind them and the potential for danger.
“I think we’re all just a lot more conscious of each other and what’s going on around us maybe protecting the goal or protecting someone who’s in more of a dangerous position. I don’t think we’ve changed a whole pile in terms of game-plan and everything else.
“I think we’re just a lot more conscious of each other and the people around us and obviously trying to protect the goal.”