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Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Morgan Treacy/INPHO Eamonn Fitzmaurice's decision to drop Colm Cooper has generated huge debate.
# Comment
Is Kerry's decision to drop Colm Cooper madness or masterstroke?
Eamonn Fitzmaurice sprung a Munster final surprise when he left Colm Cooper out of his starting team.

STOP PRESS! THE Gooch is dropped from the Kerry senior football team!

It was a surreal Thursday night. The words ‘Gooch’ and ‘dropped’ are strange bedfellows.

It’s happened once before but Cooper was the architect of his own downfall on that occasion.

This time it’s different. This writer watched his return against Tipperary at Semple Stadium and left suitably impressed.

Cooper kicked two fine points from play, the first greeted with a huge cheer and the familiar refrain of ‘Gooch! Gooch!’

Colm Cooper Donall Farmer / INPHO Colm Cooper returned to Kerry's starting 15 against Tipperary. Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

He ran out of gas towards the finish but that was natural on a day when he found his feet again.

Pointedly, he wasn’t subbed either and that makes Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s decision to leave him out of the team for a game as significant as a Munster final difficult to comprehend for many Kerry fans.

It’s a big call from the manager, who has opted to sacrifice Cooper’s creative craft in favour of a hard-working half-forward line.

Maybe he’s spinning us a yarn? Maybe it’s a dummy team? Unlikely. Fitzmaurice isn’t the type of manager to go in for that.

It should be considered, of course, that he has the best interests of Cooper at heart.

Perhaps he feels the Dr. Crokes wizard isn’t quite up to the high-octane pace of a provincial decider with Cork just yet.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice Donall Farmer / INPHO Will Eamonn Fitzmaurice's gamble pay off? Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

But the optics from the outside looking in would suggest that Cooper might be unhappy.

It’s Cork, it’s a Munster final, it’s in his home town, he’s on the bench.

Only Fitzmaurice, and presumably Cooper, know the reasons why he’s left him out.

He’s sure to see game time at some stage and if things aren’t working out for Kerry, that could be sooner rather than later.

Cork may sit deep and prove difficult to break down and in that situation, there’s hardly a better locksmith out there than Cooper.

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When he moved to centre forward in 2013, Cooper reinvented himself in a new role.

The legs don’t get him around as quick as they used to but his brain ticks over as quickly as ever.

James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The nature of his passing to Kerry’s inside forwards is pinpoint and Cooper is the type of player that spots openings that others can’t.

The wisdom or otherwise of Fitzmaurice’s call will only become apparent on Sunday afternoon and until then, all judgement must be reserved.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the manager knows it’s one of these calls that will be hailed a masterstroke if it comes off, or madness if it doesn’t.

‘Yerra, if Gooch was there,’ is the default option for Kerry fans if Cork spring a surprise and claim silverware in Kerry’s back yard.

It’s a prospect that home fans simply won’t countenance.

Fitzmaurice and Cooper may have spoken at length about this, both coming to the difficult but aligned conclusion that perhaps he’s better served as an impact player now.

Tomas O'Se and Paul Galvin celebrate the final whistle Morgan Treacy / INPHO Eamonn Fitzmaurice managed to win an All-Ireland title last year without Paul Galvin and Tomás Ó'Sé. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Who better to come on and expose tiring bodies and minds in the closing 20 minutes of a tight game?

So for now, we can only speculate. Sure, a decision of this magnitude is sure to raise eyebrows and send shockwaves rippling through the Kingdom but Kerry have plenty of strength in depth to cope without any player.

After all, they won the All-Ireland last year without Gooch and retired pair Tomás Ó’Sé and Paul Galvin.

Considering where they were coming from, that Sam Maguire win was one of the finest footballing achievements of modern times.

It also bought Fitzmaurice the time and space to make the hard calls like this, safe in the knowledge that Kerry’s demanding fans trust what he’s doing.

Perhaps we should, too.

The last time that Colm Cooper was dropped by Kerry, it only lasted half-an-hour

Leinster schools rugby winner drafted in to Tipperary side for Munster final

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