LAST SUNDAY, DUBLIN’S fringe panelists upset Kildare to book their place in the O’Byrne Cup final.
Like the rest of the All-Ireland winning squad, Jonny Cooper had no part to play in this year’s pre-season competition. But the All-Star defender remembers his early days in the Dublin set-up, when the O’Byrne Cup took on a huge personal significance.
Cooper was at the 2017 Allianz Football League Launch in Croke Park
Source: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
“A lot of those guys would have been watching from the outside over the last number of years, wanting to play and wanting to get into squads,” he says. “And now they have an opportunity, not only to get games but to win.
“It took me three or four years to get into Jim (Gavin)’s panel or Pat Gilroy’s, as it was at the time. It took me a lot of serving my own time, putting in my own effort and trying to get as many games under my belt in pre-season and O’Byrne Cup.
“So yeah, I can definitely relate. Unless you’re supremely talented, it’s something you have to go through. Ultimately, Jim does respect people who put in good performances in those games. I’m sure we’ll see some of the fellas in league panels and teams over the next few weeks.”
He captained Dublin’s All-Ireland U21 win in 2010, in a team that contained Rory O’Carroll, James McCarthy and Dean Rock. Cooper’s tenacity and technical ability eventually saw him become a mainstay of Dublin’s defence. But it took time.
Cooper lifts the U21 All-Ireland in 2010
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
In 2013, Gavin stepped up from the U21 boss to take charge of the seniors, and accelerated Cooper’s progression. He enjoyed a breakout year, lifted the Sam Maguire and never looked back. The 27-year-old puts his emergence from an U21 wing-back to All-Star full-back down to one thing – “belief.”
“I probably didn’t believe in myself that I was good enough, albeit that I really wanted to get in there,” he says.
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“I had aspirations to get in, but I didn’t believe it in my core that I was good enough. I think that shone through in my actual performances, be it in club games or in the couple of internal games Pat would have brought me in (for). I didn’t really shine through as good as I probably could have in the end.
“That bit of belief is probably something I’ve gotten in the last few years.”
Cooper might well have found himself in a state of disbelief when his All-Ireland final replay was cut short inside 20 minutes last October.
He was black-carded for a hand-trip on Donal Vaughan and the Na Fianna star says the pain of watching his teammates do the business from the sideline is driving him on in 2017.
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
“I’ve reviewed it a few times, yeah, and I probably left myself open to the rule that is there at the moment.
of the team
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“It took a bit of the shine off the day for me, personally. I have my own standards for performance, and coming off, after a very short amount of minutes, wouldn’t be one of them.
“One half of me was thinking, yeah, the next man is up and he does a job, and did it better than I probably could have done it. The other half of me is thinking, I’m there to show people what I’ve been working for.
“So it was a little bit bittersweet for me. But yeah, the team always comes first. And it was sort of instinctive. I just reached out. I didn’t really mean to pull his leg or trip him up. But you can look at it two ways. I look at it that it’s forcing me to be a better defender.
“And I would agree that the black card has helped to clean the game up. 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.
“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 after that.”
Dublin’s Jonny Cooper celebrates with his father Brendan after their latest All-Ireland win
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Although he believes he’s available to play in Dublin’s league opener against Cavan on Sunday week – “available for selection” – Cooper may be suspended for the game. He picked up two yellows and two black cards in 2016, which would appear to result in a one-game ban.
With Denis Bastick reportedly returning for another year, Dublin will add Jack McCaffrey to their All-Ireland winning side of 2016.
As much as they would prefer not to entertain talk of three-in-a-row, it’s inevitable it will follow them throughout the season.
“That’s the external narrative. Internally, we’re so competitive and driven that I don’t know if we need to compare ourselves to another team or win a certain amount of trophies in a row.”
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