GAA Football

Danny Hughes: 'The Gooch' was a great so we should just leave it at that

KERRY GOLD: There is little point comparing Colm Cooper to the other legends of Gaelic football. He won eight Allstars and five All-Ireland titles, which says all that needs to be said about his greatness

SUNDAY'S Allianz Football League Division One final was worthy of much more than that of a League decider.

This was a game between heavyweights. A gladiatorial contest that was more about Kerry getting the recent Dublin hoodoo off their back. 

They say that when you have your foot on the neck of a team such as Kerry, you need to keep it there. 

Dublin will be disappointed they have lost their unbeaten run. What they achieved since 2011 was knocking the Kingdom ‘off their perch’, to borrow a phrase from Alex Ferguson.

Dublin will feel that the vultures are circling again. Mayo will have monitored proceedings closely, as will the other contenders for the Sam Maguire.

The problem is that aside from Kerry, there aren’t any teams who consistently trouble Dublin in Croke Park, although it is still very early in the year to make such an assertion.

While Dublin still have the best players in the country, what impressed me most was the performances of the younger Kerry players who are no more than three years into their inter-county careers. 

Kerry showed a composure and, led by an outstanding individual performance by David Moran in midfield, absorbed everything Dublin threw at them. 

When Moran delivered the final nail in the coffin to put Kerry two points up in injury-time, you felt the Kingdom were finally there.

The scare was the free at the end, hitting the post – two inches makes a big difference.

While the last week has felt like an Irish wake with the news of Colm ‘The Gooch’ Cooper ‘s retirement, the Kerry players delivered a collective team performance worthy of the man himself. 

It’s true that the game has lost a modern-day great. The affection with which he is held by his fellow players, as well as managers and supporters, is something special. 

No other modern player would be loved as much in his own county as by those outside the borders of Kerry. 

With the gym programme craze of Gaelic football nowadays being widely adopted without exception, ‘The Gooch’ retained his natural lanky physique.

You always suspected he would be walking around, testing various machines in the gym and making it look as if he was doing something. 

He would be much more comfortable with a bag of O’Neills, trying to score angled frees off both feet on the pitch outside.

Is he the one of the greatest players of all-time? When you pick up eight AllStars, you have to be. 

I’ve never thought it necessary to debate about who is the greatest anyway. I think comparing one player to another is a waste of time. Can we not just appreciate that he was a great player and be done with it?

Taking offence at what Joe Brolly or what anyone else thinks is pointless. For the record, when the subject has come up, Brolly has made some valid points. 

In the past, Armagh, Tyrone and Donegal all kept ‘The Gooch’ relatively quiet by his standards – and his standards alone. He scored seven points for Kerry against our Down team in 2010 but, generally, we were happy that his influence was limited enough to a few frees and a few scores from play.

He played with some of Kerry’s best ever players, in the O Se brothers, Paul Galvin, Declan O’Sullivan. If Cooper was Paul Daniels, the others were Debbie Magee.  Without these support acts, Cooper’s star would never have shone so bright. 

He is a respected member of ‘The Great Player’s Charter’ but that charter is overused a bit these days.

I would agree with Brolly when he describes Peter Canavan as a ‘great’ player.  In my eyes too, Canavan was better than Cooper. But then again Cooper was better than Brolly, myself and almost everyone else combined. 

The next time you have a spare 10 minutes, type Canavan’s name into YouTube and see what it throws up. He was as tough as they come and at times couldn’t be stopped by two or three markers in an era in Ulster football when men were real men. 

The difference between Canavan and ‘The Gooch’ was that Canavan didn’t need support acts.  He was Houdini, Paul Daniels and David Blaine wrapped into one. 

Mickey Linden needed both James McCartan and, in particular, Greg Blaney. That doesn’t exclude any of them from the ‘charter’, it is just worthwhile to make the point.

There is no doubt that in today’s game the role of the corner-forward has become somewhat redundant, which never helped Cooper’s cause. 

While Sunday’s game was the exception rather than the rule in terms of blanket defences, Cooper probably knew that his time was drawing to a close after last year’s All-Ireland semi-final when he almost became a passenger on the team – again when assessed by his own high standards.

To retire at 33 always seems premature for any athlete. But this is modern-day Gaelic football.  There is no cushioned retirement, with players comfortable in the fact that their career has made them wealthy men.

This is not professional soccer, or even rugby. Like all other average Joes, the day job awaits for Cooper. Yesterday’s news.

Even Kerry people will be looking out for the ‘new Gooch’ this week all over the county. They will be reliving Sunday, when young Kerry lads finally prised the foot of Dublin off their neck.

Meanwhile, the storytellers and biographers will be calling Cooper this week for a few tales, possibly in the hope of penning a book to be published just before Christmas.

We don’t need a book to appreciate that Colm Cooper will be missed by all GAA supporters. We appreciated that he was different to most of us who were lucky enough to have represented our county. He didn’t need weights programmes or special diets. 

He just needed a pair of boots.He didn’t need the exposure of modelling contracts like Bernard Brogan, or TV advertisements of him selling the latest gadget.

He sold toe-tap dummies off either foot. He sold games of football. People came, they saw, they appreciated ‘The Gooch’. He doesn’t need to be compared. He just needs to be appreciated as a great player in his own right and be done with it.

He made people happy.

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