Time for new characters to commandeer centre stage

Shefflin, Cooper and Neymar cast long shadows from which fledgling heroes must emerge

 Colm Cooper’s role with Kerry has been embraced by James O’Donoghue. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Colm Cooper’s role with Kerry has been embraced by James O’Donoghue. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Tue, Jul 8, 2014, 13:36

My colleague Ken Early suggested in the Irish Times yesterday that, as far as the Brazilian media were concerned, the injury to Neymar which has ruled him out of the rest of the World Cup was the worst thing to ever happen to the country.

Neymar is not just the best player on the Brazilian team. He is the face of the entire squad, the sole creative driving force, the first name you think of when you talk about the team. What’s been extraordinary has been the serene way in which he’s handled all that pressure for the last three weeks.

If a nation of 200 million people can put all their trust in one man, then you would think that the best footballer and hurler to come out of Kerry and Kilkenny in the last 20 years would be able to handle whatever extra attention comes their way.

Colm Cooper and Henry Shefflin have successfully borne the expectation of their respective counties over the course of their careers, and the serene way that they’ve handled that pressure, hints at an inner steel; it has made them the main men in their chosen codes, both locally and nationally.

Brazil have a World Cup to win now, without Neymar. And this weekend Kerry and Kilkenny had provincial finals to win, without their talisman. Brazil will hope that their players react in the same way as the Kerry team did. In Cooper’s absence, everyone raised their game.

James O’Donoghue realised he had to step up and become Kerry’s main man. He had an injury coming into the game, he was a little short of match practice, and he surely felt that he would be targeted by a Cork defence that would previously have been saving all their attention for Cooper.

Whether he thought about it on a conscious level or not, O’Donoghue knew none of that mattered. It couldn’t ever matter to Cooper that he was tightly marked, or that his preparation may have been undercooked or hampered in any way. When he took the field for Kerry, he had to perform. No excuses.

To respond in the way that he did, by hitting 0-10, with eight points from play, was beyond even O’Donoghue’s wildest dreams I’m sure but that doesn’t set a bar for him to try and reach every time he plays for Kerry now – Cooper set that bar pretty high twelve years ago, and O’Donoghue knows that’s the level he has to aspire to.

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