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Cooper concern over 'fairly aggressive' poaching of Kerry's young talent by AFL

“They are holding clinics and sure, we have our own man, Tadhg Kennelly, stuck in the middle of it.”

KERRY VETERAN COLM Cooper says the continued courtship of the Kingdom’s youngsters by AFL clubs in recent times is worrying, but there’s not much the GAA can to do prevent it.

AIB GAA Senior Football Club Championship Finals Media Day Colm Cooper was at the AIB GAA Senior Football Club Championship Finals Media Day. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

About a month ago, rising Kerry star Mark O’Connor signed a two-year international rookie contract with AFL club Geelong.

O’Connor, a senior panellist with Kerry in 2016, was rated as one of the Kingdom’s finest prospects after he won back to back All-Irelands in ’14 and ’15.

Geelon also brought Legion player Padraig Lucey Down Under in ’14, while Fossa starlet David Clifford is reportedly being closely monitored by Aussie Rules scouts.

“It is something we have got used to,” said Cooper. “We would love the likes of Mark O’Connor to be still be at home and other lads who have been up at trials in recent weeks.

“But if you are talking to 17 and 18 year olds (about) the lure of going to Australia and signing a rookie contract and live as a professional, it is hard to compete.

“I just don’t think there is any way of stopping it, to be honest. I don’t know what the GAA can do about it, think the lure is too much for young guy.

The (AFL) clubs that are coming over are fairly aggressive, they are holding clinics and sure, we have our own man, Tadhg Kennelly, stuck in the middle of it.”

Last weekend 11 youngsters, including five Kerry teenagers, were assessed by Kennelly at an AFL Talent Combine in UFC. Since his retirement, the 35-year-old is operating as a talent recruiter for the AFL, searching for the best players globally.

Tadhg Kennelly Tadhg Kennelly at a recent AFL Talent Combine in UCD. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

After the legendary Jim Stynes, Kennelly is the GAA’s most famous export to the AFL. He arrived home from Australia to win an All-Ireland with Kerry alongside Cooper in 2009, but returned to Oz the following year.

“It is his job,” continued Cooper. “I’m sure there are some people who ​aren’t too happy about it, that he’s coming taking the best players form his county, where he grew up and played, but at the end of the day it’s his job.

He’s in recruitment of players. I think the fact that he’s taken a few from Kerry and not other counties hasn’t (gone down well). Some of it is down to the individual as well and what they want from their careers.

“Would we like him not to be taking the Kerry lads? Of course we would, but I think that’s just the nature of the beast at the moment.”

Cooper  has yet to make a call on his own future with Kerry, something he says he’ll do once the club campaign finishes with Dr Crokes. He met with Eamonn Fitzmaurice at a function last weekend, but the topic of retirement didn’t come up in conversation.

“I think because the Crokes thing has been so busy and all my energies have gone into that, I just want to see how the year finishes out and see how I’m feeling about everything. We’ll make the right decision then.

“If the hunger is there to go again, if the body comes through unscathed in the next few weeks, they’re the main things. I think if those things are good and strong then they’ll be pointing in the direction of coming back.”

Kerry Manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice celebrates with Colm Cooper Eamonn Fitzmaurice celebrates with Colm Cooper after the 2014 All-Ireland final. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“The commitment now is drastically different to when I started. It’s a huge time commitment, you’re putting your life on hold, everything goes into preparing your body.

“When you’re over 30 and you’ve had a few injuries as well, you need to give it a little bit more (thought).”

As one of the elder statesmen in the Kerry squad, Cooper has watched men he played with for years hang up their boots and ride off into the sunset. Marc Ó Sé was the latest one to close the book on his days in green and gold.

I’m getting to be the oldest one now. I suppose when they’re moving on you’re saying ‘Jesus, is my time coming to an end as well’ because when you soldiered on so long with people it’s changed a lot. But that won’t have a big say in what I decide because I think you have to judge it on an individual basis.

“But we always say in Kerry, you get the geansai for a while, you hold onto it as long as you can and then you pass it onto somebody else. That’s why I talked about trying to win as much as you can while you have it. That’s the big thing.

“Kerry football was fine before Marc O Se or Colm Cooper or any of those guys came along and it’ll certainly be fine after it. We never think that football will stop because we’re not playing, that’s never the way it is and there’s exciting young players coming through now.

“That’s the way it should be. There’s a little bit of a changing of the guard at the moment but that’ll work for the good as well hopefully.”

Marc O'Se and Colm Cooper celebrate victory 26/9/2004 Marc O'Se and Colm Cooper celebrate Kerry's All-Ireland win in 2004. Source: INPHO

For now there are more important immediate for Cooper to consider. He leads Dr Crokes into the Munster final on Sunday in search of his fifth provincial club title.

An All-Ireland club medal is the major award that has eluded him during a wonderful career, but the 33-year-old isn’t looking past The Nire this weekend.

“Look, I’ve been very open and honest about this for years. It’s a medal that I’d love to win. I’ve two brothers who have won it; people in the club have won it. It’s a competition I hold very close to my heart and it’s the ultimate for any club player.

“If you were talking to the guys from Slaughtneil, Corofin and Brigid’s, they’ve all been there before and some of them have got over the finishing line and others haven’t.

“They’re having the same problems as us and we’re all dreaming of the same goal: to be there on St Patrick’s Day. But there’s a few hurdles to jump before then. We’re all dreaming of that but you can’t look too far down the line.

“It would be fairly foolish for us as a mature team to think anything beyond Sunday – I’ve been around too long for that. We won’t be taking anything for granted.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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