The obvious question is why?
Why would Colm Cooper do it?
Why would he put himself through the ordeal of conducting his recovery literally on the sidelines of a Kerry team preparing for Championship battle, under the watchful eye of Eamonn Fitzmaurice?
Like an Alcatraz prisoner hearing female conversations from San Francisco on the wind, it was a cruel kind of reformation for the cruciate victim.
“Initially, no, I didn’t really want to be there,” he admits. “It’s strange any time people have a serious injury like that, I think there’s a grieving process. After the operation, I was kind of down for a few weeks and looking for a chink of light. How is this going to fix you, you’re struggling to get off the couch, you’re struggling to go to the toilet, you’re thinking ‘how the hell am I going to go back?’ Then you’re struggling to watch a match and you’re thinking how will I ever play at that pace again? Those type of things go through your mind.
“Just during the summer, myself and Eamonn had a chat. It was really my call. It’d be good for me if I was part of the group and did my training inside as professionally as possible. We’d the Kerry doctors and physios in there, which is what I wanted.
“I didn’t want to be a distraction to the boys or just hanging around, either. If I was coming in, I wanted to do something meaningful. From my point of view, that was getting my knee right. I easily could have done the thing of going on the piss with my friends, going up to Dublin for the August Bank Holiday weekend and lived the normal life of a 27-28 year old who goes over to watch Liverpool or whoever. That was just a personal choice I had to make myself and for me, I needed to get back involved. I was away long enough.”
What may have appeared a purgatory for Cooper became a sanctuary with the passing of his mother Maureen in August. There was a time for grieving but the routine of training provided him with solace. “I suppose the six months between doing your knee and losing your mother was a particularly difficult couple of months. You’re saying to yourself ‘where do you go to pick up the pieces here?’ and that kind of thing.
“But the fact that Kerry were going well, I was in training and feeling part of the group, that was a massive boost to me that I didn’t realise, or maybe the players and Eamonn didn’t realise. That was helping me along so much and it gave me a focus that Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, I was training with Kerry and I’d my mind occupied and I was busy at work at the time. Sometimes when you’ve too much time to be thinking, that can be a difficulty. Being busy was a help and I kept powering on.”
Had a certain onlooker not being so conspicuous in an overlooking tree in Fitzgerald Stadium this day three weeks ago, he would have seen Colm Cooper train with Kerry. His fellow Killarney man James O’Donoghue marvelled at his contribution that evening, describing him in his own unique way as “disgusting”.
Donegal wondered would Cooper feature but so too Kerry. “I couldn’t walk down the street without being asked the question. ‘Is there 10 minutes in you?’ ‘Is there five minutes in you?’ No matter how many times you say no to people, they’ll still ask the question. That’s just the hype of an All-Ireland, you take that as it comes.”
Fitzmaurice had first broached the idea of Cooper togging out the morning of the semi-final replay win over Mayo. “It came as a shock to me as anyone else but it probably provides a bit more inclusion.”
The plan has never changed: Cooper won’t line out for Dr Crokes this year — “as much as I’d love to get involved, I’ve put in too much work”. It’s likely he won’t return until February or March. He intends talking to Fitzmaurice about his 2015 plans in the coming week or two.
And don’t think he didn’t celebrate the All-Ireland. “Like I’d kicked many balls,” he smiles. Watching on, he thumped enough of them. He saw his old comrade Kieran Donaghy both save and win an All-Ireland for Kerry. Would they have done so without him? “No, I don’t think so,” argues Cooper. “In a word, no. He made that much of a contribution.”
His own hunger shouldn’t be a problem. “For me, there’s a little bit of hunger and fire in the belly to get back. To prove to myself that I can get back. Ultimately prove to Eamonn that I’m strong enough to get back and push for a place again.
“I love playing for Kerry. Do I want more? Absolutely. Do I need to work a lot harder? Incredibly so. You just have to sacrifice so much to get back and finish your career on a high, whether that involves getting on the Kerry team, winning medals. In Kerry it comes down to medals and there are more to be won in my opinion and I want to be part of it.”
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