Johnny Cooper wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last Dublin footballer to sprout in spring only to slump come summer.
There have been plenty in the past who have suffered the same fate as he did last year. Surnames like Vaughan, Hubbard, Andrews and Fennell act as sirens warning of the ides of March.
The alarm bells rang for the 2010 U21 All-Ireland winning captain last year having enjoyed a promising couple of games in the league under Pat Gilroy.
Then disaster struck. As he takes it up: “I was doing well and the confidence was probably up. Then, all of a sudden, the league was over and there was a five or six week gap and I probably just lost my confidence.
“When I did regain it, the team was already set. Or the 22 or 23 was already set.”
Cooper, who has looked the part in the Dublin defence these last two games, reckons he might have been a bit star-struck.
“Coming in last year after they had won the All-Ireland, you’re probably coming in awe of the team. There are so many lads you would have seen play throughout the years and on TV and that sort of thing.
“Last year, when I came in first, it was off-the-cuff. Then, it probably caught up on me a small bit; who I was playing with. It was just inexperience on my behalf.”
One of the more versatile players in the Dublin set-up, the 23-year-old is adept in both defence and attack but believes his best way of keeping his spot is nailing down one position. With James McCarthy, Philly McMahon, Michael Fitzsimons, Kevin Nolan and another couple of defenders yet to start a game for Dublin, he appreciates the competition that will soon face him.
“They are going to come back, whether it’s going to be in a couple of weeks time or however long he gives them off but it would be in the back of your mind.
“It’s very much, if you’re performing, you’re going to get the jersey. That’s the short and the long of it really. There isn’t too much complication or too many mixed messages.”
Having worked successfully with Gavin at U21 level, Cooper knows more than most what’s expected of him. He enjoys the manner in which the manager allows the players to express themselves on the field.
“You’re not pulled back. It’s very much to suit the talents the players have. If someone is strong going forward, why not go forward? If someone is strong at defending, why not leave them back?
“It’s very much a flexible thing in terms of who is there and the strengths and weaknesses they have.”
Sitting on the bench during 2012 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to this evening’s opponents Mayo, Cooper watched on as Dublin left it too late to claw back a 10-point deficit. He marvelled at the Connacht champions’ speed of hand before half-time.
“I think in the first half Mayo just moved the ball so quick that we were almost chasing our tails a bit and we probably got caught on the hop a small bit going into the Mayo game.
“We addressed it at half-time and looked at where we were and looked at where we could have been and we almost got there but it was probably too late and we had a mountain to climb.”
He says the panel are hungrier now than they were last season as defending champions.
“We dipped in and came out and dipped in and came out and ultimately that was probably the theme of the summer. Struggling to be up at the pitch of it for that long. There’s probably a squad of 30 or so taking out all the lads that are injured and Ballymun and whatever and everyone has a realistic chance of getting that jersey, whatever position you’re going for.
“Whether you have the jersey or don’t have the jersey, everyone is hungry to get that jersey.”
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