GAA Football

Jonny Cooper reaching out to those helping hands

28/8/2016 Dublins jonny cooper pic seamus loughran
By Seamus Reilly

WITH every medal comes reflection for Dublin defender Jonny Cooper. As the Leinster and All-Ireland titles continue to roll in, the Na Fianna clubman further examines how he got to where he is currently in his career.

The 28-year-old is aiming to get his hands on the Sam Maguire for a fifth time when they face Tyrone in Sunday’s final at Croke Park. If he gets the opportunity to climb the Hogan Stand steps he’ll keep an eye out for some of those who helped plot his path to the top.

“It’s different,” he said about his reaction to success now.

“It’s different because you put a lot in to get there and it’s that buzz and it’s that thing of competition and all this other stuff.

“Then when you win it, you get the opportunity to celebrate and congratulate each other.

“But certainly for me, over the last year or two, it’s been more about family and club and that kind of appreciation for the people who got me there.

“Whereas the first year or two was ‘me, I got there by myself’. Now, I’m older and more experienced in terms of having gratitude for what got you there.

“So from that point of view, it’s giving back in some way or at least being more appreciative of the people who have given their time over the years.

“So I guess it has kind of changed. You still get the internal buzz. But equally now for me, it’s about helping others and giving back to the club and other people in terms of the platform that I have.”

Cooper is hoping that his increasing maturity off the pitch extends to matters on the field of play as well.

The player has at times walked that disciplinary tightrope and was black-carded in the 2016 All-Ireland final against Mayo.

Even earlier this year when the side was waltzing to victory against Longford in the Leinster semi-final, he was lucky to escape sanction after a reckless challenge on Dessie Reynolds.

Gavin has an unshakable belief in his player though. He made him captain as Dublin claimed the All-Ireland U21 title in 2010 and Cooper went up for the toss in this year’s Leinster final against Laois as Stephen Cluxton was missing through injury.

Given his reputation, he knows that Tyrone are likely to try and get under his skin on Sunday but he said that maintaining discipline could be the difference between winning and losing.

“I don’t really talk to opposition, to be honest. I don’t really get involved in it. There would be time where I get emotional all right but I don’t really get involved in it too consistently.

“I don’t think it adds anything. If anything, it has probably taken away from my game when I have engaged with it in the past.

“But yeah, they (Tyrone) bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm and the whole lot to it. So yeah, it’s interesting in terms of discipline and keeping that discipline.

“That side of it is going to be quite challenging because both sides are going to be right on the line.”

Cathal McCarron and Colm Cavanagh are the only two members of the Tyrone squad who have felt the buzz that accompanies All-Ireland glory having been involved in the county’s last success in 2008.

Things could not be more different in the Dublin camp. Brian Howard may be chasing his first All-Ireland title but he very much in the minority within the squad.

Cooper quickly quashed any suggestion that the Red Hands may have the edge when it comes to hunger though.

“Why do you keep coming back? What’s the driver? The initial driver is the in-house competition and the competitive nature of the group of people that is there at the moment.

“So, before it ever gets to a game or a final there is a guy or several guys that want the food that you want in many ways.

“That’s where it starts. I guess just winning is something that you want more and more of as well.”

While some Dublin players will switch off in the lead up to the game and just let the chips fall where they may, Cooper will be studiously analysing Tyrone.

He said that he can’t help breaking down what happens on the pitch in as much detail as possible.

“I like the technical side of it, the push and pull of force of the intricate side of my position.

“It’s not always easy to apply it at speed. I do slow-mo stuff and it is the one tackle or contact or fingertip that will potentially make something.

“We beat Donegal in 2010 in an All-Ireland U21 final and Michael Murphy hit the crossbar. I always think of that: it is only a couple of inches that potentially separates you from winning and losing and those couple of inches could be broken down into eye or hand position or something like that.

“I’d say other lads do look at it but I’m probably a bit weird, maybe a bit of OCD, in looking at some of it.”

It seems that Gavin allows the players decide for themselves how much they get bogged down in the minor detail and potential opponents.

Cooper said that he will always shoot the breeze with the players around him, but that sort of conversation is limited as far as the group goes.

“In-season there is a lot of internal conversation, bouncing stuff off ‘Fitzy’ (Michael Fitzsimmons) or Philly (McMahon) or ‘Murch’ (Eoin Murchan) or one of the boys back there and seeing how they would do it and trying to marry it. “There isn’t a whole pile of formal stuff in front of the group. It’s more informal, Whatsapps or phone calls, before or after training.

“Those collaborative thoughts can come together, maybe twig a marking technique against somebody that may be coming up. I don’t know if the forwards have them. It may be different for them because they’re not marking someone.”

It’s a mature analysis from a player determined to grow, determined to learn from his mistakes.

A fifth all-Ireland winners’ medal would be the perfect recipe for some more positive reflection.

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