Sunday 22 April 2018

Cooney's 2012 final plight 'like a train hitting you'

Conor Cooney
Conor Cooney

Five years on, Conor Cooney recalls it almost with a wince. It was, he says, the sporting equivalent of being hit by a train.

The young Galway forward, still a teenager, was parachuted into an All-Ireland SHC final that was balanced on a knife-edge. The sides were level but Kilkenny, after hitting five on the spin, had critical momentum.

Barely nine minutes later, he was beckoned back to the Hogan Stand.

No injury alibi either.

Ask any inter-county player and he'll probably admit that to a be sub who is then substituted is the ultimate indignity. Cooney's misfortune was magnified by the occasion - the drawn All-Ireland of 2012 - and his brevity on the Croke Park pitch, from the 52nd to the 61st minute before Anthony Cunningham called him ashore.

Did it knock his confidence?

"Yeah, absolutely," admits the St Thomas' clubman. "I was 19 at the time ... when something like that hits you, it is like a train hitting you almost.

"It definitely was a big blow to the confidence. You have to put those things behind you - I'm a few years older now, a bit wiser.

"It is something you would think of. You kind of want to go out to set the record straight, to prove to yourself and to everyone else what you are capable of. I'm looking forward to the match, to being in the best place I can to put in a good performance."

And, in fairness, the 24-year-old Cooney is in a very different place. He has tallied 1-14 while starting all four Galway games en route to Sunday's showdown with Waterford. This included 1-3 in the demolition of Dublin and 0-8 (all bar one from play) in the Leinster final against Wexford.

Back in 2012, he had announced his senior arrival with two early goals (separated by just 30 seconds) against Offaly ... but he was still a young gun learning his way and eventually lost his place for the final.

Joe Canning referenced Cooney's 2012 final plight in an interview last month. "Conor is one of the best forwards in Ireland, he has everything," said Canning. "And you can see him flourishing now because he has that confidence from management."

Reflecting on that topsy-turvy debut campaign, Cooney recalls: "I think I picked up a small knock, I don't know what happened, maybe I fell out of favour a small bit as well.

"As I said it was tough at the time to take, but I was reasonably healthy that year. Since then I have picked up a lot more knocks ... "

Which brings us to Galway's most recent All-Ireland heartbreak, once more against Kilkenny. Cooney had been their top-scorer in 2014 only to endure an injury-ravaged 2015, twice fracturing a metatarsal bone in his foot. He got back just in time for the final, appearing as a 56th-minute sub.

"I wasn't really in the best place possible," he now accepts. "I wasn't at the fitness levels or the sharpness levels really required, but I was fierce driven at the time."

"Whereas now," he adds, "thank God I have a clean bill of health going into an All-Ireland final. That is a great place to be, it is what you dream about when you are a kid."

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