Colm Cooper is down but not out
Serious injury has deprived Kerry of their star forward but he aims to return in 2015
Colm Cooper is resigned to missing the rest of the season, and his first championship match for Kerry in 12 years
He must have replayed it countless times in his head already, and still Colm “Gooch” Cooper can’t completely fathom the moment. He is now resigned to missing the rest of the season, and with that his first championship match for Kerry in 12 years, and feels primed to embrace the long, slow process of rehabilitation, but how could such a simple tackle result in such a devastating injury?
“I still don’t know if there was a pop, or a click, or anything like that,” he says. “And I was clinging on to hope, walking off the field, that it mightn’t be as bad. But there was a lot of pain, something I had never come across before, so I knew there was some damage done.”
That was the moment, eight weeks ago this Saturday, when Cooper rode a seemingly harmless tackle in the All-Ireland club semi-final: the game ended with Dr Crokes losing to Castlebar Mitchels, and then, 48 hours later, came the news that Cooper would also be lost to Kerry for the rest of 2014, that simple tackle not only rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, but also fracturing the knee bone itself.
Indeed Cooper may never completely fathom the moment: “I remember thinking as well, for half a second, that there was a goal chance on. But a couple of Castlebar lads came across, and when I realised it wasn’t on, I kind of had to shorten my kick with my right leg. Then a Castlebar player came across to try to get a block, and just made contact with my knee. There was impact, and when I landed then, it was like my knee went forward, and then came back.
“But there’d be hundreds of tackles where that has happened, and that I’ve just stepped over, or stepped out of, or jumped over, or whatever. Just this time the contact knocked me off balance, whatever way it happened. You’d get bigger blows in matches but this one, it was the one I couldn’t get out of, and the damage was done. But you move on.”
Although it’s not quite as simple as that: the following Friday, Cooper went under the knife of leading knee surgeon Dr Ray Moran at the Santry Sports Clinic in Dublin, and the fracturing of the knee bone will make for a more complicated recovery process.
He’s still moving around on crutches, and it will be several more weeks before he can start even light running – but what is certain is that Cooper won’t be rushing things.
“Certainly my outlook now is a lot more positive than it was a month, or six weeks ago, in terms of when I saw my leg, and the knee, when I came out of surgery. I suppose having not had any major surgery like that before, and when you’re struggling to get up to go to the toilet, you’re saying, ‘how am I ever going to get back up on it on a championship field?’
“But I’ve seen remarkable improvement in the last 10 days or so. That just tells me that it’s going to get there, but that it’s going to take time. Hopefully it will end with getting back on the field with a Kerry jersey on and that’s my aim and my goal right now.”
Cooper is not yet completely sure how it will feel once the championship starts, when for the first time since the summer of 2002, he will play no part with Kerry. He turns 31 in June and sees no reason why he can’t come back as strong again in 2015, and there will be plenty of time to ponder all that while his team-mates are off doing what he used to be doing.
“I’m certainly resigned to the fact I won’t be playing in 2014. It’s going to be 2015 before it happens, but whether it’s the start of the league I don’t know. Hopefully the healing is going to be good but from talking with people and talking to experts you just can’t push this injury. I don’t what to come back and it be a scenario where I’m 90 per cent right. So that’s probably easier from my point of view, saying ‘look, the year is gone’. I just have to move on from it, and get it as right as I can.
“Certainly when I get the green light to start my rehab, I’ll be getting back into the pool, doing a lot of swimming, a lot of cycling, getting to the gym and maybe doing some upper body stuff.
“And of course it takes a little bit of time to digest, and there’s probably a bit of grieving time there that has to be given. To be completely honest it hasn’t 100 per cent sunk in yet. Kerry are going away on a training week to Portugal next week, that’s always been the signal for me that the championship is around the corner.
“This time you’re going to be sitting on the terraces. It’s going to be strange. Even attending last week’s game, against Cork, was a bit strange, but there are hundreds and thousands of players who have done something like this, and learned to deal with it.”
Indeed Cooper is not yet sure what if any supporting role he’ll play with Kerry this summer, or indeed if he’d be better off staying away completely.
“It’s a difficult one for me, because all I know is playing in terms of Kerry. Am I being a bit selfish on my part? Perhaps. But being away from it a little while will really drive me, refocus me, and give me the bit of hunger to come back stronger again.
“And maybe something will click in the summer, in the back of my mind, of maybe not taking it for granted, and to understand what a privileged position I’m in.”