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Friday 20 September 2019

Harking back to Donegal lesson keeps Cooper focussed

Dublin stars Niamh Collins and Jonny Cooper launch AIG’s new #EffortIsEqual campaign which recognises that the effort, commitment and dedication amongst male and female players is equal
Dublin stars Niamh Collins and Jonny Cooper launch AIG’s new #EffortIsEqual campaign which recognises that the effort, commitment and dedication amongst male and female players is equal

If Jonny Cooper ever makes the mistake of looking too far ahead of himself, one match - one word - helps bring him back to earth.

Donegal.

The 2014 All-Ireland SFC semi-final: the last time Dublin lost a championship match. And barely anyone outside of Jim McGuinness's inner sanctum saw it coming.

Dublin were hot favourites beforehand and scorching ones after 27 minutes, when they led by five points.

Then the wheels came off.

For Cooper, that salutary experience is still a very good reference point when people start jabbering in his ear about the Drive for Five.

Cue the inevitable first five-in-a-row question at yesterday's launch of AIG's #EffortIsEqual campaign. Asked if he had any sense of the history Dublin might make this summer, Cooper's one-word response was spectacularly to the point.

"Zero," he said.

But how do you keep away from it all? "I just have no interest in it, to be honest with you," he explained.

"Do we get it, and do people talk about it, does it get thrown out? Yeah, it gets everywhere.

"What's worked for me, ever since I came on (to the Dublin team) is just focussing on what's immediately and directly in front of me, and I don't think anything else has influenced me in any other way.

BLUNT

"And if I have gone that way, it's gone the wrong way for me - Donegal being a highlight a few years ago. So yeah, just being blunt and honest, I don't have any connection to it."

It begs the question, what stood out from that 2014 defeat that compelled a change of mindset?

"Look, we deservedly got caught," he stressed. "We got caught and deservedly so because we, as players, didn't ask ourselves enough questions as to what could happen, what may happen. And the result went deservedly that way.

"So I just think that complacency ... that ability to focus on the immediate and the task-in-hand as opposed to anything else, any other side conversations is obviously tricky to balance and manage but something that is profitable potentially if you're able to do it.

"So I guess that's my learning from that time - just to focus as best I can on me and what's in front of me as opposed to something that I can't or shouldn't be able to control."

While Cooper accepted that it's "probably not easy" to filter out all the outside noise, the competition for places keeps everyone grounded - even a supposed mainstay of the full-back like himself.

Referencing the recent comeback of Rory O'Carroll, and the return to fitness of his clubmate, Eoin Murchan, he explained: "Rory is back, Murch is there too and there's five other people going for something I want. So, it's always worked if I go that way."

UNKNOWN

For Cooper, sticking to what has worked also means focussing on Louth (and Louth only) tomorrow week. Everything beyond that can wait. Curiously, his SFC debut came against Dublin's Wee neighbours, off the bench in 2012, but they still qualify as a new and unknown challenger.

Harking back to his own early days in Sky Blue, and measuring that experience against the seamless rise of the latest young guns such as Brian Howard and his fellow Na Fianna man, Murchan, he remarked: "Maybe I'm biased a little bit. I don't know how much in reality they are actually stronger or faster and so on. Certainly I get a sense that they're coming in with a heightened sense of awareness of what's needed. Not even the physical attributes, I guess emotional awareness.

"From that point of view the underage structures have maybe served a lot of the players well."

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