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Thursday 14 December 2017

'I didn't believe I was good enough'

Defender wants to improve on 2016

Dublin’s Jonny Cooper at the 2017 Allianz Football League Launch in Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Jonny Cooper at the 2017 Allianz Football League Launch in Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Jonny Cooper can relate to the men who will wear the Dublin jersey next Sunday in Drogheda in the O'Byrne Cup final no-one expected them to be in.

The truth of the matter is that plenty of Paul Clarke's squad wouldn't have gotten their chance to play for Dublin in the competition had it not been for last year's All-Ireland final necessitating a replay and the knock-on effect which saw Jim Gavin's triumphant squad delay their team holiday until January.

For many, the promise of a successful underage career has yet to lay a concrete pathway to seniordom.

"Unless you're supremely talented," Cooper points out, "it's something you have to go through."

An All-Ireland winning Under 21 captain in 2010, it took a further two years for the Na Fianna man to make the Dublin senior squad.

GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail speaking at the 2017 Allianz Football League Launch in Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail speaking at the 2017 Allianz Football League Launch in Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Aspirations

Even then, it required a further season and a change of manager before he got to play with any regularity.

"I probably didn't believe in myself that I was good enough," he reflects now.

"Albeit, that I really wanted to get in there.

"I had aspirations and all that sort of stuff to get in, but I didn't really believe it in my core that I was good enough," he continues.

"And I think that probably shone through in my actual performances, be it in club games or be it in the couple of internal games Pat would have brought me in for to make up the numbers.

"I didn't really shine through as good as I probably could have in the end.

"It probably took me an extra bit of time.

"For example, Rory (O'Carroll) came straight up from 21s - or he was was actually already there and obviously he was showing really hard and putting in big performances.

"Whereas my performance didn't match my internal drive or ambition to actually be there. That bit of belief is probably something I've gotten in the last few years."

Similarly, the other two senior men from that 2010 winning team tread different paths, albeit routes that had the same destination.

Similar to O'Carroll, James McCarthy started for Gilroy in Dublin's breakthrough All-Ireland win a year later.

Dean Rock - like Cooper - was required to be patient.

"Winning an All-Ireland doesn't guarantee anyone a platform at senior level," Cooper notes.

"So yeah, it's hard. Some of them aren't even playing anymore from that Under 21 team and some of them are playing club.

"It's the environment that you fall into after that particular competition.

"Do you have enough drive and enough inner competitiveness to try and go back and work hard, to ultimately go back into the senior setup?"

Cooper is coming off his finest season with Dublin, though one that ended slightly too early.

His All Star was testament to a body of exceptional work that spanned the entire year though his black card in the All-Ireland final replay for a hand trip on Donal Vaughan meant his participation in the game lasted just 15 minutes and may in hindsight, have cost him at least a nomination for Footballer of the Year.

"I didn't want the year to end, to be honest," he admits. "The way it turned out for me, I was just growing and growing.

"I had a lot more in me than I was able to show in a 15 minute period in that game. So yeah, a successful season collectively and personally but a lot of room for improvement."

"One half of me was thinking 'yeah, the next man up and he does a job' and did it better than I probably could have done it," he adds of Davy Byrne's performance as his replacement.

"The other half of me is thinking I'm there to show people what I've been working for and to try and show people what I'm able to do.

"So a little bit bittersweet for me. Yeah, the team always comes first but I probably left myself open to the rule that is there at the moment.

"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.

"So yeah, it probably left a sour taste at the end of 2016 for me and gives me the bit between my teeth to get a jersey again and maybe stay on the pitch longer the next time."

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