THIS time last year Colm Cooper arrived at St Paul's HS, Bessbrook to explain the importance of saving to eager pupils.
A cruciate ligament injury had denied the ‘The Gooch' the chance to play his part in Kerry's All-Ireland triumph and he was working his way back to full fitness.
He got there and returned this season but the Kingdom lost the Sam Maguire to Dublin.
The Kingdom star was back in the north yesterday, this time to address students at the Abbey CBS, Newry and St Patrick's, Downpatrick as part of his roll as a Youth Ambassador with AIB.
He tells ANdy WATTERS about the virtues of Philly McMahon, referees wearing microphones, the black card, skill-versus-strength, retirements and much more....
AW: You returned this year after a season out with injury and added another Munster medal to your collection, but no All-Ireland. What are your reflections on 2015?
CC: First thoughts are that it was great to get back because for 14 or 15 months previously I wasn't playing. Just to get back playing was great.
I kind of struggled in the early part of it, in terms of getting back up to the intensity of it. I was doing all the training, but when you are out for that length of time, the intensity… I found it difficult to get to the pace of it.
All of a sudden, come the start of July I started getting sharp again really quickly. It was great to get back and I was positive from the Cork final replay, each game we were getting better.
Until the final against Dublin?
The final was just a bit… for some strange reason we never performed.
Even the finals that we lost in previous years to Tyrone and different teams, we have always had a spell in the game when we have had a run on the team, but for some reason in the final we didn't get going in too many areas of the team at all. We just weren't good enough on the day.
Philly McMahon marked you. He came in for a lot of criticism last season for resorting to strong-arm tactics. Was it justified?
Some of it's been unfair because he had a great season, he was in line for Player of the Year.
You can talk about various points in his play, but the biggest point is that he had a fantastic season. He marked big players in big games and did very, very well against them.
I've seen it with different players that they come under the microscope an awful lot. We've had it in Kerry with Paul Galvin for a number of years. Some of it fair, some of it unfair. That's just the nature of the beast but I just think he had a very good season with Dublin.
I spent a lot of time running around Croke Park in September after him and, believe me, that was a difficult job – I saw different parts of Croke Park that I never saw before!
Does going back to the drawing board mean returning with new tactics? Is style more important than success in Kerry?
People will have a perception that when we beat Donegal (All-Ireland final 2014) it wasn't the most fantastic football in the world. But do you want to play the fantastic football and lose?
We adapt all the time. We love the catch and kick football, but we are not naive enough to think that that's the way. We have failed in the past doing that.
Probably one of our greatest strengths is our adaptability and we have learned, we have learned the hard way against the Tyrones, and different teams in big games that we have lost. We knew that, ‘okay, this is not the way to go anymore.'
At the end of the day, you want to be in Croke Park in September winning, and that's important. If you get the balance right by how you play, then fine. But you have to get the balance right.
Referee David Coldrick was wearing a microphone during the All-Ireland final as part of a programme for RTE. Any issues with that?
I didn't see the programme, but I hear everybody talking about it.
It was just surprising from the point of view that no-one knew about it. Should the players be told before the game? I think they should.
It was there, not to catch out players I don't think, but it was there to show the public what really happens.
But the one thing I would say is, if there are comments being made towards referees about different things, penalise them.
I'm not sure it (black card) is enforced enough.
I obviously talk to referees and have my words, but I can guarantee if you penalise guys, you won't be long stopping them.
If you don't enforce the rule that's there, it's going to continue.
Would you have any objections to a situation where supporters in stadium/at home can hear ref's explaining their decisions to players like in NFL and rugby etc?
Not really. It might be hard to do.
I'm just taking rugby as an example. The rules in rugby are very defined so most decisions are clear-cut enough.
The GAA I would say is definitely not so a referee in Kerry might have a different perception to a referee here in Newry.
How has your own role changed? Is there still room in the game for forwards who survive on skill rather than muscle?
I would like to hope that there is – Eamon Fitzmaurice will be telling me I'm surplus to requirements otherwise. My feeling is there always is. It worries me in some ways that the game… like if you have a fast, small skilful player against a guy who is six foot, strong, athletic guy, who would most guys pick now? I would say the six foot athletic guy. Skill level, to me, is deteriorating a bit because if this is the way fellas want to go and to be coached and stuff, that's fine, and every county has different aspirations, but to go and win an All-Ireland, you need your skilful players. You need to have top class forwards that can get scores in big games.
Have skill levels in Kerry dipped?
You won't be picked for Kerry squads unless you have three-quarters of a very strong skill level, maybe 90 per cent.
If you can only do one thing in Kerry, you won't be on the team. We talked about adaptability, we need guys who can inter-change positions who can play in different games. I don't know what coaching goes on in other counties, but I think the game has become too structured and over-structured and players' skill levels are lessened by that. It's weights, it's gym, it's running, it's strength, it's tackling. If you look at every team's warm-up now, I'd say about 70 per cent of it is tackling-based.
Are Dublin going to dominate football from now on?
They're there on merit and if you look at the demographics of the team, they're very young by and large.
They're going to be around for the foreseeable future. The dangerous talk is four or five All-Irelands and we heard that after 2013 and they lost to Donegal the next year.
We know how difficult it is to win back-to-back first of all so I'm sure Dublin will be concentrating on that first.
We've had a few goes at it and we were lucky enough to do it in '06 and '07 and it's very difficult to do to get the hunger up. You need a lot of things to go right; you need to keep clear of injuries – which is a lot easier said than done given the workload of players, given the club structure that is going on at the moment.
I think it's loose talk just to say that Dublin can come along and win everything. Yes, they have the population. Yes, they have resources but that alone won't get them there.
Cian O'Neill has left the Kerry backroom team to manage his native Kildare. Will he have success there?
I think he'll be very good for them.
He'll bring a lot of professional to them and his strength and conditioning is where he excels. I'd expect Kildare to be supremely fit, extremely strong and I'm sure he'll bring something to the football; he'll improve standards there as well.
Did you work with (Armagh native) Jason McGahan?
Yes, Jason was down with us – he's a good Armagh man. He's good fun and I got on well with him. He's moving with Cian to Kildare, they specialise in sports science. He was great for us for the time he was there and he got on really well with the players, he was good fun – we gave him plenty of stick. He'll be a loss.
At this stage of the season there is always speculation about retirements – Paul Galvin, Marc O Se and others have been mentioned?
The likely ones are Marc O Se, Aidan O'Mahony, Kieran Donaghy (above, inset being halted by Philly McMahon). They'll know themselves, no-one can make the decision for them, but if they're healthy, if the hunger is still there and their fight for battle is still there then I hope that they'll go on. If it's not they can walk away with their heads held high. But knowing the lads I'd be surprised if they did walk away – they're hungry boyos and they might want some more.