Colm Cooper hopes Dr Crokes can march all the way to St Patrick’s Day

All-Ireland club title only medal missing from his collection


When Colm “Gooch” Cooper starts pining for that one medal still missing from his cabinet he’s not being flippant about it, and certainly not selfish. Four championship and four National league medals, seven Munster medals, and now eight All Stars would be enough to satisfy most, but not necessarily for a player who has also come so near and yet so far with his club.

Now, it seems, the stars might just be aligning for Dr Crokes, particularly if Cooper can stay fit for as long as the Killarney club stays in the club championship. That’s no easy task, given he’s rolling into his fourth winter campaign on the back of a typically demanding summer with Kerry: and as the AIB’s new television campaign conveys, the club championship is the toughest of them all.

“We’re playing again this weekend, could be beaten, then suddenly you have six weeks of a break, maybe even a little bit more,” says Cooper, when asked how he sustains his form for both club and county. “If not you could be training right through Christmas with Crokes, going to an All-Ireland semi-final. So it’s just about managing it, with a little bit of common sense.

“Last year we won a Munster club with Crokes and then in mid February were beaten by Ballymun. And I didn’t come back until probably the second last league game with Kerry. So there was a little bit of a break there. But the most important thing is that I haven’t picked up too many injuries. I had an ankle ligament injury but that cleared fairly quickly. Outside of that I’ve been fairly lucky.”

Now, having won a fourth Kerry title in succession, and already disposing of Cork champions Castlehaven, Cooper is hoping that luck will run all the way to St Patrick’s Day – unlike some recent years. Losing to Ballymun last year was a mild surprise, and Cooper’s own motivation stretches back to 2007, when they lost the All-Ireland final replay to Crossmaglen.

Next up – on Saturday afternoon, in Killarney – are Loughmore-Castleiney, who recently captured a rare football-hurling double in Tipperary. Dr Crokes are hot favourites, yet Cooper has been around long enough to know the club championship still loves upsets: Crossmaglen, their old nemeses, discovered that over the weekend when taken out by Down champions Kilcoo. Cooper just smiles at the notion of their exit.

“I was sitting with a guy, watching the Man United-Arsenal game, and there were tweets coming through, that it was gone to extra-time. You were just wondering would Cross pull through, because they’re so seasoned. But watch any club championship game now, at this time of year, and if you don’t show up, you can be caught. Clubs are putting in so much effort, it’s gone so professional, that come February or March, you just don’t know who’s going to be there.

“For us, this year, I think everyone is just a little bit more committed, in terms of preparation before games, going to the gym, going to the pool after, things like that. That comes from a little bit of hunger, the hurt of not getting there over the line the last couple of years. That’s the hurt that’s inside guys. They’re hurt the way things finished. They don’t want to leave any stone unturned. That’s the biggest difference I see with these guys this year.

“We’ve more strength in depth too. The two guys from London (Mike Moloney and Shane Doolan) are back. So we’ve had more options for our management. They’ve had problems sitting down to pick teams. The last few years, the team has picked itself but this year the selection has been more challenging. But we’ll only find that out over the next couple of weeks, to see how far we have progressed. It’s an incredible achievement for Loughmore, to win the hurling and football. ”

Chances running out
At 30, although some distance off retirement, Cooper also views this club campaign as potentially his last: Dr Crokes did win an All-Ireland back in 1992, when an eight year-old Cooper acted as club mascot, but he knows the chances of winning one himself are fast running out.”I always treat it as a last go. I know how hard it took for us to get back here, to win county finals in Kerry. I suppose myself and Eoin Brosnan are two of the older guys. You just don’t what might happen. Guys might go travelling, pick up injures. It’s just this year we’re focusing on.”

Cooper also empathises with the recent schedule of Dublin football champions St Vincent’s, who endured four games in the last 13 days: “That would have me at tipping point anyway. There was a replay thrown in there, which they wouldn’t have planned for. But that’s very gruelling on the players. Particularly the intercounty players who have had a long season already. To be fair, once Kerry are beaten in the championship, our club championship is run off, week after week, which works out fine for us.”