Cooper envious of new boys on All-Ireland eve

by Dave Donnelly

NA FIANNA’S Jonny Cooper admits to a tinge of envy as teammates Con O’Callaghan and Niall Scully prepare for their first All-Ireland football finals.
Cooper, who was dismissed with a black card early in last year’s final replay win over Mayo, is looking forward to making up for lost time when they face the same opposition on Sunday.
And although he’s looking ahead to his fourth All-Ireland final in blue – he’s won all three so far – his drive for self-improvement means he can’t help wondering what he could have done better in his maiden Championship.
“You’d like to be back at the start again and having another crack at it and seeing if I could do it better than what I was doing at the time. It’s an interesting one.
“I suppose you don’t really take it [in] – well I didn’t. It was over before I knew it. It was October and you were training again before you even knew it.
“I don’t know what way the likes of Con would be feeling now. They’re all quite level-headed so I’m sure they’re all taking it in their stride.
“They have to find their own path as well as leaning on the support of the guys who have been through it. It’s an exciting time for a few of them lads.”
Back when he was a young footballer on the beginning of his journey towards intercounty stardom, Cooper didn’t look up to the heroes of the 1980s and early 1990s.
During a less-than-fertile time for Dublin football, it was his Na Fianna clubmates Dessie Farrell, Senan Connell and Jason Sherlock who inspired him to reach for the stars.
“I haven’t seen much of [the classic Dublin sides], or know much about it, to be honest. I’m obviously aware of the tradition as a whole, but in terms of names and people who would maybe have been the bigger players back then, I wouldn’t have too much of a grasp.
“I certainly would have gone to the games in the 2000s, etc, so I’d have a lot more of an affiliation to individuals in the later years rather than the earlier years.
“Dessie, Jay and Sen would have been the three big Na Fianna and Dublin players at the time, so I’ve obviously a direct connection with them.
“Dessie and Jason have gone into coaching and management and done particularly well, so I’ve kept in contact with them, and I’ve seen Senan about and he’s doing his own role with analysis.
“They would have been the original people you’d have nailed to wrap yourself around in terms of looking directly at what they were doing.
“They weren’t overly successful with Dublin but they were where I wanted to be so it was good to interact with them in any shape or form.”
The game has changed immeasurably even since those players were winning Leinster Championships around the turn of the century.
Jim Gavin’s Dublin team, and that of Pat Gilroy before him, have been a huge part of that changing focus in GAA where players are expected to be comfortable in any part of the pitch.
That flexibility was key to Dublin’s overwhelming a more old-fashioned Tyrone in the semi-final and will be even more vital against a similarly vibrant and modern Mayo side led by Aidan O’Shea.
It’s a particular strength of this Dublin that players like Cooper are just as adept playing as an out-and-out defender or sweeper or getting forward to advance play and score points.
“You have to be comfortable, certainly now, in many different positions, many different scenarios, angles, etc.
“You have to be just as comfortable – maybe not as good, but as comfortable – taking a score as the forwards would be, and likewise the forwards in terms of blocking and tackling.
“That’s what’s the exciting part of it. When I started, you were an out-and-out defender and that was your job, whereas now that’s very much flipped on its head.
“You could be taking up any role, or asked to do any role, and you have to be adaptable in Jim’s to fit in.”

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