Colm Cooper not sure if he would make the grade if only starting out on his career now

Kerry star feels skills of the game need to be safeguarded


Criticism passes, talent remains. They said that about the great artists. Although now, the way Gaelic football is going, it could be that talent passes, criticism remains.

Remember Colm Cooper? The skinny Kerry forward better known as the “Gooch”? As scary as it might sound, he has no future in the game, or at least wouldn’t make it if he was starting out now, rather than 12 years ago. When it’s Cooper himself who is actually saying this maybe it is time to be afraid, very afraid.

“Yeah, I’m not too sure I would even be able to start out now, to be honest,” he says. “An unwritten requirement at the moment, to be a GAA player, is you’ve got to be 6ft, built like a tank. If you look at most county teams, every guy is lifting big weights, has to be able to run, has to be able to tackle, and he’s taken over from the skilful guy, that’s 5 ft 10in, slight build.

“When I started playing, I was 10 stone, on the nose, going into the 2002 All-Ireland final in Croke Park, which is unheard of now. Okay I was only 18, 19, but if there was a strong wind, I’d have been blown over the bar. I remember Kieran McGeeney hit me a crack of a shoulder, and I knew all about it. If I was starting out again, right now, I might not get the opportunity. I just wouldn’t be able to compete with those guys. Physically anyway.

Over 12 stone
“I’m just over the 12 stone now. It’s a little bit of a better fighting weight. But I am what build I am. I’m never going to be lifting 120kg. I do certain things, feel toned. But would an 18- or 19-year-old, coming in now, who is 5ft 8in, even 5ft 10in, not carrying any weight, but maybe the most skilful guy in the county, would he be carried? I’d have my worries.

“It’s more likely to be 15 of the biggest players in the county. It’s going that way, not in all counties, but it’s a worrying trend, that the more athletic guy is likely to make it than the skilful player. To me that’s not right.”

Cooper justified these comments by admitting he is, for now, still a huge fan of Gaelic football, watches it as often as possible, no matter which counties are playing: yet he understands exactly where Down forward Benny Coulter was coming from when saying, earlier this week, that he wouldn’t have paid in to watch himself play, against Donegal, last Sunday.

Triple marked
“I completely understand where he’s coming from. He’s probably going to be double or triple marked, doesn’t have the licence to go and do things he capable of doing. If that’s the case, you’re saying, ‘why am I here at all?’

“If I’m a supporter, which I am, I go to matches to see that little bit of brilliance, that little bit of class. I love to see the competitive stuff, the fair shoulder, the hitting, as well, but I think if you take the class and the brilliance and the elegance of players out of it, well I think the game will be a lesser game because of it. At the moment it is happening less and less. That’s worrying to be honest.”

The solution, he says, is not necessarily a revolution, but maybe further evolution. Speaking in Dublin in his role as an ambassador for Lucozade Sport, Cooper suggests that Kerry’s own style of football will continue to evolve, and no one really knows for sure where things are headed.

“For us I don’t think there will be a radical change,” he says, at least not going into the Munster final showdown against Cork on Sunday week. “It’s just the way we were brought up playing football. But you do have to adapt every day you go out. Teams might play two behind the ball, play you straight up, playing at midfield the one week, and forward the next.

“I can’t remember watching a game where players lined out, 1-15, as per programme. That just goes to show how football has gone, in terms of tactics, battles, and structure. It’s certainly more challenging, how teams set up.

“But from a supporters point of view, it’s very evident that teams go out to stop each other, rather than try to win. Teams are happy to win eight points to nine, whatever, rather than give up 1-15. Whether that’s good, bad or indifferent for football, it’s not easy on the eye, for sure.

Change style
“Invariably if some team is winning, everyone tends to change their style and go with that. I don’t think you can change it without altering the rules. Do you have to keep so many in your own half, keep five forwards up at one time, do you introduce a second referee? But if it continues to go the way it is, you’ll see attendances dropping. You need to safeguard the skills of the game and the skilful players in the game.”