Jonny Cooper believes he can learn from black cards

‘I would agree that the black card has helped to clean the game up’ says Dublin defender

Jonny Cooper (right) with Kerry’s Donnchadh Walsh   at the 2017 Allianz Football League launch on Monday in Croke Park. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Jonny Cooper (right) with Kerry’s Donnchadh Walsh at the 2017 Allianz Football League launch on Monday in Croke Park. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

 

It took Jonny Cooper out of the All-Ireland final inside 20 minutes – and possibly takes him out of Dublin’s opening game of the Allianz Football League. And still he agrees wholeheartedly in the black card. He’s not being sarcastic, and reckons that, if anything, it will make him a better defender in 2017.

Only before looking ahead to that (in Croke Park to talk up Dublin’s opening game against Cavan on Sunday week), he first reflected on his early dismissal in that final replay win last October: his trip on Mayo’s Donal Vaughan at 19 minutes wasn’t intentional or, he felt, necessarily cynical, but according to the rules he was rightfully told to walk.

“I’ve reviewed it a few times, yeah, and I probably left myself open to the rule that is there at the moment,” says Cooper, his black card only slightly overshadowing his third All-Ireland win and in no way impacting on his first All Star award at full back.

“And I would agree that the black card has helped to clean the game up. The particular place of the pitch that it happened to me probably wasn’t that dangerous, but that’s not the rule. The rule is, if you trip someone.

“It took a bit of the shine off the day for me, personally,” he says. “I have my own standards for performance, and coming off, after a very short amount of minutes, wouldn’t be one of them. One half of me was thinking, yeah, the next man is up and he does a job, and did it better than I probably could have done it. The other half of me is thinking, I’m there to show people what I’ve been working for.

“So it was a little bit bittersweet for me. But yeah, the team always comes first. And it was sort of instinctive. I just reached out. I didn’t really mean to pull his leg or trip him up. But you can look at it two ways. I look at it that it’s forcing me to be a better defender.”

All three right

Indeed, match referee Maurice Deegan – who also back-carded Mayo’s Lee Keegan and Rob Hennelly in the same game – has since suggested he “got the three of them right”, although made a mistake in not black-carding Dublin’s John Small, because he “wasn’t 100 per cent sure” at the time.

“It’s probably all circumstantial,” says Cooper. “What stage the game is it, is the team up or down, what part of the pitch it’s on: it just depends. And, in my opinion, yellow is sometimes better than a black. But if someone’s bearing down on goal and you pull or trip them, then it should be a more punishable offence that a yellow card.”

Cooper is also awaiting clarification on whether or not he might be suspended for the Cavan game on Sunday, having now accumulated two black and two yellow cards. Still, he reckons he “will be available for selection” for the game in Kingspan Breffni Park on February 5th.

In the meantime, he’s watched with interest Dublin’s progress to the O’Byrne Cup final against Louth this Sunday. Jim Gavin handed over the managerial ropes to Paul Clarke to use what is essentially a Dublin development squad, which still got the better of Kildare in last Sunday’s semi-final.

Cooper himself was a sort of late developer in the Dublin squad, missing the 2011 All-Ireland despite a standout under-21 campaign the year before, and he expects a few new additions to the panel this year, even without any retirements in Dublin. (Denis Bastick is reportedly now intent on staying on for 2017 as well.)

“Belief, probably,” Cooper says of the difference that explains his eventual breakthrough season, in 2013. “I probably didn’t believe in myself that I was good enough, albeit that I really wanted to get in there.

“The squad that’s there now is doing well in the O’Byrne Cup. A lot of those guys would have been watching from the outside over the last number of years, wanting to play and wanting to get into squads, and now they have an opportunity, not only to get games, but to win.”

A bit of a risk

“So we’re behind the scenes, trying to come up that level, and trying to find our feet a little bit, trying to replicate it in training. It mightn’t have the same bite as you might have in pre-season competitions, and maybe it is a bit of a risk. But, at the same time, we had a long 2016, so Jim wanted to give us the necessary break.

“And as individuals, in the league, it’s always about trying to get a jersey for Championship. So I would see it as no different this year.”

Dublin set out looking to become the first county since Mayo to secure five league titles in row, and that was back in the 1930s. This year will also bring inevitable talk of three All-Ireland titles in succession, although Cooper says none of the Dublin players ever see things that way.

“That the external narrative,” he says, using what sounds like Jim Gavin language. “Internally, we’re so competitive and driven that I don’t know if we need to compare ourselves to another team or win a certain amount of trophies in a row.”

Five in a row so.

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