Even the Gooch is human. 10 years after his senior debut for Kerry, 12 years after helping his club Dr Crokes to the Kerry senior title, Colm Cooper, the footballing genius from Killarney, is feeling the pressure.
It’s not physical, despite some terrible treatment over the years from one frustrated corner-back after another. It’s more a mental fatigue which set in in the wake of a heartbreaking All-Ireland club semi-final loss to the competition powerhouses, Crossmaglen Rangers.
In Dublin yesterday to receive his AIB Provincial Player Award for his heroics during his club’s win in Munster last year, Cooper explained why he has stepped back from competitive action for a spell.
“We just felt that a few weeks off might do me good and give me a small bit of a break. We’re on the road with the club and county nearly two years with no significant break. Physically I feel fine but mentally it’s good to get away from it a little bit. I didn’t want a situation where I went back and hit a wall in May or June, when you want your form to be good coming into the championship.
“If that happens it’s very hard to turn it around. Hopefully I can get a little mental break here and come back refreshed and ready to go come championship time.”
The loss to Crossmaglen was painful, doubly so when added to the All-Ireland final loss to Dublin last September when — again — a winning position was squandered. But Cooper insists that those defeats are not the reason for this break.
“No. Even if we got to the All-Ireland club final I would have been looking to take some bit of a break after that. Like I say, it was just the build-up of a couple of years playing, the mental build-up — every game at that level is very pressurised and sometimes you just need a small bit of a lull before you can go back again. There are professional sportspeople who can’t go at that level consistently and I felt I just needed a break.”
Bad news for Kerry fans of course but the good news is that Cooper will be back sooner rather than later and certainly before championship.
“I’ll be back in the League at some stage hopefully, but not this weekend. Whether we get to the semi-finals or finals I don’t know, but I’d hope to play in some part of the League. I had a good chat with Jack O’Connor and the lads and there’s no pressure.”
His own call then? “Exactly. I think I’ll know when the body and the mind is right to go. When you go back in with Kerry you have to be 100% because if you’re any bit off you’ll be found out. I want to be 100% ready to go when I go back because it’s going to be hell for leather, hopefully, until late September.”
The problem for Colm — while he’d like to take several weeks off, is a juicy little game on the horizon.
A date with Cork looms on Sunday March 18 in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
He admitted: “It’s an enticing one — I’ll see. I’ll have a chat with Jack, but the way they’re going at the moment (with wins over Dublin and Down) they mightn’t want me! I’m sure Jack and the lads have been impressed by the likes of Brian McGuire, Peter Crowley, James O’Donoghue, Barry John Keane and Paddy Curtin. That’s great for us because it keeps everyone on their toes. We’ll see when the time is right.”
In the meantime Cooper is keeping himself well, looked extremely fresh and fit. He’s Kerry captain again this year, another opportunity to get his hands on Sam. Last September is gone, last Saturday fortnight is gone. Now, a chance to draw breath for a few weeks before girding himself once again. How quickly time passes.
“It has, yes. Just jump on the train and it keeping on going, going, going. It’s great, the experience you build up and the highs and lows — that’s the beauty of sport and the beauty of the GAA. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
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