Eamonn Fitzmaurice bids farewell to ‘genius’ Colm Cooper

Outside the Kerry minors were kicking balls over the bar in Austin Stack Park, the odd shout floating in the window where the Kerry senior manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice was talking about one of their predecessors.

Not just any predecessor.

“A genius,” was Fitzmaurice’s description of Colm Cooper, whose retirement was formalised yesterday with a brief statement. In it Cooper referred to his 17 years in green and gold, thanked his teammates, management, club, supporters and family.

“It is very rare for people to achieve their ultimate dreams in life,” said Cooper. “I just have.”

Fitzmaurice, who played with the Killarney native before managing him with Kerry, said he had left Cooper complete his club duties with Dr Crokes before talking specifically about the 2017 intercounty season: “Ultimately, he just didn’t have the appetite, I think, was the bottom line, to keep going. And you have to respect that.

“The man has given so much to Kerry, and so much to his club, that you have to be willing to give him the space to make the decision and once he made the decision, you have to respect.

“I think it was a decision he wrestled with because Kerry football had been such a huge part of his life since he was a teenager, basically. And I think he was probably slow in the end to let go, but the more he thought about it in the end, it was the right decision.”

Fitzmaurice paid tribute to Cooper’s work ethic and leadership qualities.

“There’s no doubt about it, the man was a genius. A genius is someone who has a rare, natural ability and he had that.

“But I think something that is missed is how hard he worked at his game, and at the skills in particular, that made him so good. And a thing that is underestimated about him is his presence in the dressing room and what a massive leader he was as well, from a very young age.

“He came into a dressing room with some big personalities but he established himself within a short period of time as a big personality himself.

“He was that way right up until the end. From the moment I took over as manager, he has been a fantastic leader in the dressing room, has been brilliant with the younger players, advising fellas.”

The Kerry boss had no doubt Cooper would be remembered in 40 years: “Ah yeah, I think he will. As long as YouTube is around, he will be talked about.

“He was that typical Kerry footballer and he was everything, he was a Maurice Fitzgerald-type player that the fans love to watch.

“But we are realistic enough to know that you are not going to win an All-Ireland with 15 Colm Coopers in the team. You need the tough fellas with him as well, there is always balance there.

“That was part of his appeal, both to Kerry supporters and supporters of the game in general, what a natural footballer he was, and the way he expressed himself — I don’t think it was even courage — he just had this ability to express himself and play well on big days.”

Fitzmaurice didn’t enjoy picking up Cooper himself in training, he added: “Definitely for me, he was elusive, he could make you look fairly silly fairly fast. He wasn’t one of those fellas you could nail down.

“It was like trying to pick up mercury with a fork. He was slippery. So for the likes of me, it was best to stay away from him and leave Tom Sullivan or Marc Ó Sé to deal with him.

“There was a confidence about him. He knew from the start he was good and I’m sure he’ll be talking himself over the next couple of days, but I’d say he found it easy from the start — like, a lot of guys were surprised by how easy he found it.

“But like everyone he had setbacks. I remember the drawn game against Cork in Killarney, the wet day, he was taken off early that day and he didn’t start against Cork in Pairc Uí Chaoimh, lucky enough considering how it ended up — but he came in for the qualifiers afterwards and took off from there.

“He was outstanding. His natural ability, and mentality, meant that he was ready from the start and he just made it easy from the start.”

That mentality was key to Cooper’s success, the Kerry boss said.

“He was very strong (mentally). He had a great will to win, especially in football, but anything he plays — golf, or whatever sport you tried to take him on, he wants to win.

“He had a confidence in his own ability. He loved the big days and loved performing on the big days. And more often than not, he did.”

Outside the Kerry minors were still working, still running, still shooting, and leaving Austin Stack Park you had to wonder: was there another Colm Cooper out there among them?

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