Colm Cooper met with Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice yesterday to discuss a Kerry return or retirement from the inter-county game at 33. Tony Leen examines the possible issues at play.
The lure of a sixth, and probably final, All-Ireland medal — this time on the field of play. It’s unlikely Gooch places much store in his 2014 Celtic Cross, as he was a peripheral figure after doing serious damage to his knee earlier that year, in the All-Ireland club semi-final for Dr Crokes against Castlebar.
Gooch said last week the club final win over Slaughtneil was one of his most coveted All-Ireland medals. He never said it was to be his last.
It’s unlikely that Cooper would be a championship starter with Kerry this summer — certainly Fitzmaurice could offer no such guarantee — but he would be an extremely valuable game management option for the Kingdom.
It’s too simplistic to suggest Kerry would have held on against Dublin in Tralee last Saturday had he been on the field at the end of the game, but there’s few better in the country at quarterbacking a team — as Slaughtneil found to their frustration on St Patrick’s Day.
It’s not like Gooch is looking down the barrel of a long stretch of training slog in 2017. By the time he would return to the fold, April would be more or less done.
Even if everything goes according to plan and Kerry are involved til September, that’s still only a five-month stint of work and sharpening up.
How great is the lure of perhaps taking Dublin down one last time? That’s only a question Cooper can answer himself, but he has yet to defeat the Dubs in September, even though he has delivered some masterful performances against them in 2011, and especially 2013.
The ‘startled earwigs’ quarter-final of 2009 seems a long time ago now. In fact, it’s the last All-Ireland Gooch won on the field of play. There was at least one colleague who felt the pangs of regret after calling it a day before Kerry’s 2014 success.
Fitzmaurice will probably point out to the Killarney man that he doesn’t want to be retired and wondering ‘what if?’
It’s likelier than not that Colm Cooper did more listening than talking when he met the Kerry manager yesterday. Primarily about what role Fitzmaurice has in mind for his most gifted talent. And how he sold the fact Gooch will hardly be a 70- minute player at the business end of things later this summer and into autumn.
However, if he has lost a yard or two of pace and fitness, his football brain remains razor sharp. There’s no way Fitzmaurice would waste his talisman chasing Philly McMahon up the pitch this summer. His role would be more likely as a closer — the fresh arm of relief pitching sprung from the bullpen.
The damage done to his right knee on that fateful February afternoon in Portlaoise would have ended the career of most players. Cooper suffered a broken kneecap and cruciate ligament damage. Even with the best and most rigorous rehabilitation, the chances of a full recovery at 33 must be questionable. Would he be able to put it under the physical duress required to get back up to inter-county speed at this stage?
The idea of Cooper being a virtual passenger in the Kerry squad — only being used in break glass emergency cases — would be anathema to him at this stage of his career. He will only return to the fold if he believes he can make a tangible difference on the pitch when it matters.
As an inside forward, it’s unlikely he’d continue to make an impact in key games. His role would surely be further from goal, orchestrating the attack and controlling the pace of the game. But if he is operating as an 11, does that make it more likely opposition tactics will target him as a Kerry weakness when the Kingdom don’t have the ball?
It will be up to Fitzmaurice to convince him that they can tailor their gameplan and their selections to ensure he is spending as little time as possible chasing back towards his own goal. And in today’s terms, is that feasible?
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