Sunday 23 October 2016

Alan Brogan: Injury woe is just a sympton of old age

Timing of Gooch's injury couldn't be any worse

Kerry face an anxious wait to determine the full extent of Colm Cooper’s injury. Photo: Sportsfile
Kerry face an anxious wait to determine the full extent of Colm Cooper’s injury. Photo: Sportsfile

It's funny. You go hard as an inter-county footballer for a dozen years, take every sort of belt going and put yourself through the most physically gruelling training imaginable without suffering a single serious injury.

Then, you hit 30 and your body decides to celebrate your big birthday by flinging all sorts of snaps, twinges and niggles at you.

Welcome to old age, pal.

I don't know the extent or the specificity of the injury Colm Cooper suffered on Sunday but I do know what it feels like to get one during the season and that the timing couldn't have been a whole lot worse.

Mid-summer, just as the All-Ireland series appears on the horizon, is a disaster for a player, especially one with more footballing Septembers behind him than before him.

In 2012, I felt my groin inflame in a Leinster final against Meath and I missed the All-Ireland quarter-final against Laois - the first Championship game since my debut where I played no part.


For the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo, we did everything we could to get it right: rest, physio, injections, anti-imflammatories - the whole lot.

In the end, I had it numbed with two injections but it's probably safe to say my brain was more numb than my groin going into that match.

It's hard.

All I wanted was to get back on the pitch. I reckoned we'd a good chance of back-to-back All-Irelands.

But in the lead-up, you spend more time thinking about your fitness than you would normally devote to preparing for a match of such stature.

And that either eats into the time you're supposed to spend visualising the game or you walk around like a zombie thinking about nothing else but your injury and the match.

You're a back page news story.

And people, while meaning the best, are just naturally nosey.

You get sick very quickly of smiling and throwing out the old 'ah, sure, hopefully it'll be OK' line to every well-wisher that bumps into you on the street.

Say if the Gooch misses the All-Ireland quarter-final and we get the Kerry/Dublin semi-final we're all expecting, he'll be the protagonist in one of those 'will he/won't he?' sagas in the build-up.

Which, when you're trying to get things right and convince your manager - but mostly yourself - that you're at full pelt physically, is a massive distraction.

I trained the week of the Mayo game but, in a way, I didn't really train at all.

You think you're training well and you're relieved to be a part of it but you're not going as hard as you should be and deep down, you know it.

Nowadays, players and managers talk about the intensity of A versus B games as if they're the sporting equivalent of the Battle of the Somme but it's impossible to get match pace in training games.

You'll never get there until you're in the real thing.

In training games, the mind can protect the injury a bit.

In Championship combat, the mind is otherwise occupied and this is exactly when the injury has to hold up while you're going flat out.

My groin injury in 2012 just couldn't take it. That's the Gooch's problem if the injury is serious.

He'll strap it up. He'll protect it. He might get back training.

He could even play internal matches leading into the quarter-final but he'll never know whether it's fully right until he tests it again against a team with very limited regard for his physical well-being.

Even at the less severe end of the injury scale, a collar-bone or A/C shoulder joint injury involves gym sessions to build back up and I'm not insulting the Gooch here by saying that sort of work just isn't his forte.

If it's just a knock, great.


But if it was serious enough for him to come off last Sunday in Killarney, it's probably serious enough to make a very important part of the season more awkward and frustrating than it should.

Either way, he'll have to take a few weeks off, then a bit of non-contact and then back into full training.

He'll be trying to mind that shoulder as much as he can going into those games in the hope that he won't hurt it again before those matches.

And that's always a danger: one hit and it's over again.

Éamonn Fitzmaurice will have to weigh up what to do with him.

In 2012, Pat Gilroy decided not to start me against Mayo and in hindsight, it probably wasn't the best thing to do.

I came on, broke down and we wasted two substitutions.

The Gooch is experienced enough to know if he's fit enough to play but on the flip-side, he doesn't have too many more All-Ireland semi-finals left in him.

There's a balance. And a player isn't always the most honest person in these situations.

Otherwise, it was a decent sort of run-out by Kerry last Sunday, even if they haven't been drenched with praise for it.

What we learned is limited, though.

I've no doubt but that Fitzmaurice is developing a plan specifically for Dublin, the finer details of which we won't see until it's needed.

They were caught last year relying mostly on the same players and the same system that won them the previous year's All-Ireland and in my experience, Kerry football people aren't the sort to make the same mistake twice.

Young, pacey defenders are all the rage now and Tadhg Morley and Brian B Ó Beaglaoich are exactly that.

Paul Murphy has given their half-forward line a bit of speed too but make no mistake; the Gooch's well-being remains utterly vital to Kerry now.

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