Darragh Ó Sé: Gooch played ball that made all around him better
I played with some brilliant players but Gooch was up there with any of them
Colm Cooper celebrates scoring a goal against Cork in the closing minutes of the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final replay at Croke Park.
In Colm Cooper’s first game for Kerry, we were playing Laois in a Division Two league final in Limerick. He was still only 18 and jerseys were a lot baggier in those days so you can imagine how loose it was on him.
He scored a goal with his first touch but my main memory is of looking up at one stage to give him the ball and seeing his jersey turned around so that the number 13 was to the front. The Laois corner back had pulled and dragged out of him but there was more shirt than man to hang onto and the Gooch ended up scoring 1-2.
Later that year he chipped the goal keeper against Fermanagh in a qualifier. That’s 15 years ago and, in all the matches I’ve played and watched since, I don’t think I remember seeing anyone chip the ’keeper again. You just don’t see it in the modern game, do you?
But that was Cooper, right from the very start. He was playing his own game, his own way.
The thing people don’t really get about how he played was that scoring was never his first thought. He was a forward and he was expected to score, and he did when he had to. But if you saw him kick a point, you knew that he had already calculated that a goal wasn’t on.
In that brilliant performance against Dublin in 2013, there was a point he scored in the first half that should have been a free out. He cut in from the sideline on the run with his head up, looking and looking to see was there someone to put in on goal or a one-two to play. He waited and waited and took about nine steps before kicking the ball over the bar. It was as if the referee was mesmerised by what he might do next and forgot to blow his whistle.
The simplest way I can put it is that Colm Cooper played football that made everyone around him better. I saw him play a club game for Dr Crokes in the county championship one time on a wet evening in Strand Road. He had the ball about 40 yards out and he could smell a goal.
One of his team-mates made a run but this is club football and the level of talent is lower down the scale. Not everyone makes the right run and not everyone can collect every sort of pass. Gooch knew that if he played a quick, zippy pass in front of his man, chances are it wouldn’t be collected and the chance would be lost.
So instead, he chipped up a Mickelson-style flop shot that landed softly and gave his team-mate nothing to do only collect and score. It was a one-in-a-hundred ball for most people but not for him. He made it as user-friendly as possible and the Crokes got their goal.
I often thought about that pass afterwards and the subtlety of his thinking. Not only did he as good as guarantee the goal, he turned his team-mate into Colm Cooper for a split second. He left him wheeling away thinking, ‘Jeez, if myself and the Gooch could only get a bit of help from the rest of them, we could do serious business here.’
But that was him – brutally competitive, totally confident and not a bit shy about it
Thing is, Colm wouldn’t be long snapping the young fella out of it. He wasn’t long snapping anyone out of it. I played him a gammy ball one time against Dublin in 2004 and he turned around and ate me. He was 20 and I wanted to wring his neck. But that was him – brutally competitive, totally confident and not a bit shy about it.
The night before the 2007 final against Cork, we had a team meeting. Those eve-of-final meetings are tense and nervy no matter who you are. Graham Canty had been Cork’s main man all through the championship and had outplayed Colm in the Munster final that year. So there was a lot of talk about doing this and doing that, nearly talking around the subject. That was until Gooch put up his hand.
“I know ye’re worried about Canty. There’s a lot of talk about him having my number. Just get the ball to me and I will put that to bed.”
He scored the first goal the next day and finished the game with 1-5. The talk was put to bed.
As a person, as a team-mate, he was great company. Slippery too, all the same. We were in Cancun one time on a holiday and himself and myself went to a nightclub. We got cut off from everyone else for some reason and I came back from the bar at one point just as a row was kicking off among some of the locals. We got cleared out of the place and there was mayhem for a few minutes and all of a sudden I couldn’t see the Gooch anywhere.
Now, if it was anyone else, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Like if it was Galvin or O’Mahony, I’d be more afraid for the locals than I would for them. But I couldn’t be going back to the team hotel telling everyone I left the crown prince to fend for himself in the middle of a gang battle.
So I went back in against the crowd that was coming out and the joint was hopping by this stage with chairs flying and bouncers horsing anything that moved out the door. And where was the Gooch? Long gone. Away eating a burger someplace. Not worrying about Darragh Ó Sé anyway.
And rightly so. I was dispensable. The Gooch wasn’t.