Twelve years and counting in Cooper’s kingdom

With the championship opener against Tipperary just days away, Kerry’s key forward looks at change and the growing demands of the game

Kerry’s Colm Cooper will be 30 in a few days as he sets off in pursuit of a fifth All-Ireland medal.

Kerry’s Colm Cooper will be 30 in a few days as he sets off in pursuit of a fifth All-Ireland medal.

Fri, May 24, 2013, 02:00

He will be 30 in a few days and has been a football phenomenon since he was a teenager. This Sunday against Tipperary in Killarney, Colm Cooper sets off on his 12th championship campaign in pursuit of a fifth All-Ireland medal.

In recent years his calendar has been extended by Dr Crokes’ progress to the ultimate and penultimate stages of the club championship so timing his preparations has been more complicated.

“It’s just to re-charge the batteries,” he says of the break he takes when the club commitments have run their course, “which is more mental than anything else because you’re fitness levels are okay but if you don’t switch off, you find yourself hitting the wall at some stage coming into the summer which is the wrong stage to be hitting it.

“In the last couple of seasons I’ve learned how to deal with it a little bit better because we’ve been going strong with the club for the past four or five years.”

The course of his career has also seen demands on players rocket and the intrusion into the lives of amateur sportsmen reach unprecedented levels. Cooper is speaking as the sponsor’s GAA Ambassador at the launch of Opel Kit for Clubs 2013, held in Croke Park yesterday.

“It’s a concern for me,” he says when asked can the pressure on players intensify much further. “I just don’t know where else it can go. You’re talking about teams who train early before work in the morning and train twice a day.

“From my pint of view I’m a single guy at home, don’t have kids and amn’t too bad in terms of flexibility at work. But if guys are self employed with two kids I really don’t know how they combine everything. If they get injured and are out of work I’d worry about what they do for wages.

‘Fun and enjoyment’
“Sometimes you’ve to come back and say, ‘look this is a hobby and you do it for enjoyment.’ When I started off playing for Kerry it was fun and enjoyment and I still get huge amounts of enjoyment from it but if it keeps going the way it is I think the shelf life will become a lot shorter. The days of seeing the likes of Tomás Ó Sé playing until 35 will be gone.”

Does he ever resent the way in which his entire twenties have been subject to such regulation? “I wouldn’t say ‘resent’ – that’s a very strong word and I’ve had great times from the GAA and from matches, playing with Kerry in All-Irelands and team trips and meeting different players. I’ve had more good times than bad times.

“But sometimes you’re missing a friend’s wedding or guys are going away to Australia and that opportunity isn’t there for you if you’re serious about your football. Football has dictated a lot of the past 20 years of my life in terms of holidays and timing things but you do it because you love it, love playing football and love the buzz of this week coming into championship and starting in Killarney against Tipperary. That’s why you do it because you enjoy it.”

Kerry are under new management this year. Eamonn Fitzmaurice is a former team-mate – who delivered the long pass from which Cooper got his first goal in an All-Ireland final in 2004 – and the first of the recent generation to take the county reins.

In recent matches Kerry have been looking at Cooper at centre forward, a departure from his familiar placing in the full forwards although he has occasionally played for the county in a deeper role and does so frequently with Dr Croke’s.

“I think Eamonn and the management just wanted to change the set-up of the team a little bit. An advantage we have is that a lot of our forwards can play in a number of positions. It’s given me a different view of the game because it’s fine doing it with the club but the inter-county set-up is different.

“I’d see myself adapting during the summer, going corner forward and centre forward. It’s given me a different idea and teaches you to look at the game a bit differently, which is no harm.

“I’ve played there with the Croke’s a number of times and when the team is struggling you might come out and get on ball. I like being involved in the game and getting on the ball as much as possible wherever I’m playing.”