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Saturday 10 December 2016

Super trooper is Cooper

Gooch dreaming of ultimate club deliverance but it's not the only ambition still driving him

Colm Cooper is still searching for an elusive All-Ireland Club Championship medal
Colm Cooper is still searching for an elusive All-Ireland Club Championship medal

Colm Cooper has won it all. Well, almost. There is still one particular itch to scratch - that elusive All-Ireland club medal.

So, is it his last big ambition?

"Well, it's a remaining one. There's a few left!" he teases, leaving the question about the Gooch's Kerry future dangling while simultaneously dropping a large hint that he will be back in green-and-gold come 2017.

But that question can wait a while longer, now that Dr Crokes are back in another AIB Munster club SFC final - against Waterford underdogs The Nire.

"To be honest, we'll have enough to do to beat The Nire in Mallow on Sunday. So that's our 100pc focus," he emphasises.

Yet Cooper cannot escape the fact that Munster finals have rarely been the issue for Dr Crokes. During his own lengthy career with the Killarney kingpins, they have lost just one provincial decider (to Nemo Rangers) but won four.

Painful

The problems have arisen in the All-Ireland series: one painful defeat to Crossmaglen in the 2007 final replay, followed by three semi-final setbacks on the spin, to Cross again ('12), Ballymun ('13) and Castlebar ('14).

"I've been very open and honest about this for years. It's a medal that I'd love to win," he says. "I've two brothers who have won it (in 1992); people in the club have won it. It's a competition I hold very close to my heart and it's the ultimate for any club player.

"But there's five other guys here today (at an AIB media briefing in Dublin) thinking the same thing. If you were talking to the guys from Slaughtneil, Corofin and Brigid's, they've all been there before and some of them have got over the finishing line and others haven't.

"They're having the same problems as us and we're all dreaming of the same goal: to be there on St Patrick's Day."

Speaking of that March 17 double-header long ring-fenced in the GAA calendar, Cooper favours moves to make the club championship a calendar year event, finishing in December. But he's sceptical about talk of bringing it into being for 2018.

"It's not possible, unless the complete structure changes on everything. There isn't enough weeks in the year," he reasons.

"So unless there's a massive mindset change from the powers-that-be, whether it's county boards or the GAA's central committee, it's not going to change."

A Kerry prodigy-turned-icon since 2002, Cooper can obviously see both sides of this perennial club-v-county argument.

"In an ideal scenario you'll continue to play (club) games through the summer and it would finish in a calendar year ... but in most counties the priority is the county team. I just think, if that continues, it's impossible to do it," he surmises.

Power

"The summer months are when it's the best weather so you should be playing a lot more football. The problem is inter-county managers have so much power and, in a lot of the cases, have a very strong view on fixtures and when they want their county players."

But he accepts there are two sides to it and he has seen both. "When you're with the county, you want tunnel vision on winning an All-Ireland with Kerry. And that's the Kerry manager's job. His job isn't to facilitate the club structure," he points out.

"And the club manager is only worried about trying to win a county championship. So everyone has their own priorities but, at the moment, it's creating tension and frustration and, from what I'm hearing, I don't think we're going to see a solution any time very soon."

As for his own Kerry intentions, the 33-year-old won't officially decide until Dr Crokes finish their latest odyssey.

"I've had very little talk with Eamonn (Fitzmaurice) or any of the management about it. We met last weekend (at a function) but didn't discuss it."

And the key factors?

"Hunger - if the hunger is there to go again. And if the body comes through unscathed the next few weeks. They're the main things, I think if those things are good and strong, then they'll be pointing in the direction of coming back," he explains.

"The commitment now is drastically different to when I started. It's a huge time commitment, you're putting your life on hold, everything goes into preparing your body and I suppose when you're over 30 and you've had a few injuries as well, you need to give it a little bit more."

But, as we speak, "the body's good" and winning an All-Ireland club is not his sole remaining football ambition.

So what are they?

"It's just to continue playing and win, basically. Is that to win more with Kerry? Does that mean I'm not retiring? For as long as I'm playing I just want to keep winning, if that's with Dr Crokes or Kerry.

"I hear the cliché too often: if I win this I wouldn't care if I never win again. I'm not at all like that. I want to win next Sunday and I want to continue winning in 2017 as well.

"When you are a competitive animal, like so many of us are, you just want to continue winning all the time and a club medal would be high on the list," he adds. "If you look at any great sports people's career, you look at the longevity and how long they can do it."

On that yardstick, Gooch has been doing it longer and better than most.

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