A sporting autobiography confirms some street truths and puts others to bed as nonsense. Tony Leen analyses the nuggets, the insights, and the revelations in Colm Cooper’s book — which is published today.
The ‘fucking animals’ interview
From the perspective of a team holiday in South Africa, few of the players sensed that Páidí Ó Sé’s remarks about Kerry supporters were a big thing. Indeed, the real story from the interview as far as they were concerned was the apparent schism between Páidí and John O’Keeffe, the team trainer. Páidí had signalled a change of tack for the following year and Johnny, who wasn’t on tour with the team, was not amused.
“If I’m honest,” writes Gooch, “the idea of losing Johnny was of far more concern to us than any PR fire-fighting Páidí found himself compelled to do.”
Páidí and the Ryder Cup
If Páidí Ó Sé wasn’t central to the tale, you’d scarcely believe it. But conjure up a cocktail of helicopters, the Ryder Cup, a refuel in Farranfore and a spell hovering over a hurling match in Killarney when they got home from the K Club, and you know for certain there’s one common denominator — the irrepressible P O. The helicopter home from the K Club went via Ventry first (for a pit stop and a pee), onto Farranfore and, with light fading, well let Gooch explain:
“There was a hurling match on, right in our landing area and another one in the top (Crokes) field. So we hovered overhead for a little while the pilot tried to get the message across that, well, the hurlers were a little bit in our way here.”
Gooch’s other problem was the optics, locally, as the helicopter took off leaving Killarney’s favourite son sheepishly running for cover. “Who the fuck does this clown think he is? Win a few medals and lose the plot?”
The losses cut deepest
Armagh 2002? “The memory still sickens me, we should have been out the gap at half time.”
Dublin 2011: “I don’t think we’ll ever be able to forgive ourselves for how completely we unravelled. It was incredibly naive for an experienced team like us for that to happen….I was just sickened by our carelessness.”
Dublin 2016 semi: “Hand on heart I should have kicked 0-4 from play that day (not 0-1). And I’ll carry that frustration with me into retirement because the Dubs were there for the taking. History gets written by the final score, but for me three of those games (2011, 13, and 16) were virtual tosses of a coin.”
Confirmation, if it was needed, that Jack O’Connor exists outside the ‘Golden Circle’ in Kerry football. “Pretty quickly (in 2004) Jack communicated a view to us that he didn’t believe too many of the four-in-a-row team had his back. He reckoned he was rowing against a wicked current here.”
There’s been a few books now from this crop of Kerry players that vent O’Connor’s chip on the shoulder approach — which is fine. However, it would be a pity if the Dromid man’s idiosyncrasies overshadowed his incredible service to Kerry football at all grades.
Yes, Tadhg should have seen red…
Cold comfort to Cork now, but Cooper feels that “logically”, Tadhg Kennelly should have walked for that opening shot on Nicholas Murphy in the 2009 All-Ireland final.
“Tadhg should have seen red for that challenge — but it would have been a massive call so early in an All-Ireland final.”
There are a few other referees’ calls that Gooch and Kerry grumbled with, with one Cavan official meriting mention: “Joe McQuillan was never our favourite ref in Kerry,” he writes in one chapter.
The knee and the second procedure
It was the worst of times — a torn cruciate ligament and a fractured knee in 2014 which ruled him out for virtually the season. But for the first time, Cooper reveals that he went back to Santry and specialist Ray Moran midway through his rehab for a SECOND procedure. No-one was told for fear that, as Gooch puts it, “people would start writing my retirement story”.
The reason was the lack of progress with his rehab. “I began to wonder had something gone wrong with the surgery. The real challenge was trying to get (the knee) to bend. The more I tried, the less progress I seemed to make. And the pain was unrelenting. To this day only Éamonn (Fitzmaurice) and the physio know (that I went back to Santry).”
The second procedure was done without anaesthetic. “I was especially wary of the visit getting out, thinking of the gloomy headlines. But everything was done discreetly and immediately there was a massive improvement. Ray Moran had somehow worked the miracle he’d promised.”
And he WAS a jerseyed sub for that 2014 All-Ireland final...
By the time of the replayed semi-final in Limerick against Mayo, Gooch — as he explained in an Irish Examiner column last May — was part of the group and Fitzmaurice was toying with the idea of using him as a wild card.
In his autobiography, he confirms that he was part of the 26 for the final against Donegal. “To this day I actually don’t know who was omitted from the 26 because of my return. And I don’t want to know. On the day I was given the No 28 shirt so it was something that — largely — passed without people noticing.”
The Philly factor
For most Kerry supporters, it summed up the complete system malfunction on the day; Gooch chasing back the field to track his marker, Philly McMahon, in the 2015 All-Ireland final.
“My instruction was to follow… I’d say if we were having this conversation with Éamonn now, he’d say it was a mistake.”
What rounded off an altogether miserable day was McMahon’s old pals act after the final whistle. “I’ve no problem lads knocking lumps out of each other, or wanting to sow it into you. Humiliate you even. But don’t come to me at the end looking for a hug. Don’t come to me wanting to be my friend.”
An insight into Pat O’Shea
He’s a man who rarely ventures into the media, but he remains (in this writer’s view) one of the best football pitch coaches in the country.
Coach to All-Ireland club (2017) and Sam Maguire (2007) winners, Pat O’Shea is Crokes to the core. And one of Gooch’s lifelong and most trusted sounding boards.
“I suppose he has that eccentricity you see in a lot of great coaches — in the Klopps and Mourinhos and Contes and Bill Belichicks of this world. They just see things from another angle. They work things out in a different way.”
And that extra night in Vilamoura...
What goes on tour etc etc — until it comes to the autobiography. And it’s not a serious breach of omerta, one presumes, when the fall guy is the author in question.
On their last night of an Algarve training camp (a favourite of Kerry’s over an eight-year stretch), Gooch and the squad hit the Irish Cabin in Vilamoura.
And on it went, to an apartment with a gang from Tipperary, with no trace of an alarm clock for their 6am departure to Lisbon and the flight home. Until Gooch woke at 11am the next day, everyone gone from the Algarve. In such moments, there was only ever the one solution.
“I phoned The Bag”, aka Patrick O’Sullivan, later to become Kerry Co Board chairman, but the ultimate fixer for the lads (an award he’d have a serious rival for in Niall ‘Botty’ O’Callaghan).
“He managed to book me a flight to Dublin from Faro that afternoon. Better still one of Johnny Buckley’s drivers was able to pick me up in Dublin and ferry me home to Killarney. I ended up in Kerry before the rest of the squad touched down. Wasn’t I the smart cookie?”
What’s the first thing Colm Cooper did after confirming his retirement?
He took the Andy Merrigan Cup that Dr Crokes had brought home from Croke Park in March out of the boot of his car and paid a visit to two old neighbours in Ardshanavooly. First Tom McCarthy, then Evelyn Regan, both of whom were struggling with their health. Tom, an old Crokes stalwart, chatted away, never loosening his grip on the silver symbol of success.
So, what does it all mean?
The medals? The All-Stars? The goals? The adulation. What means the most?
Surprisingly, Cooper reveals his greatest pride may just be the durability no-one every thought he’d possess because of his size. At least until that awful knee injury in 2014. He wasn’t just thinking ligament rehab as he lay in Santry.
“Deep down I’m every bit as conceited as the next man, and there’s more than a ligament in my knee after rupturing here. There’s a badge of honour gone,” he writes. “Since making my debut with Kerry in 02, I’d never missed a championship game. Seventy-odd days on duty without a sick note.
“I’ve never spoke about this, but that record meant nearly as much to me as an All-Ireland medal. I was supposed to be too small, too weak, to play for Kerry. And yet I’d become the Indestructible One, the one who kept togging out. The distinction that really meant something to me was this largely invisible one. Nobody knew how proud I was of that record.”
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