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Dublin: 3 °C Wednesday 26 February, 2020
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'I've always got what I deserved, whether that's a failure or a sending-off in an All-Ireland final'

Dublin All-Ireland winner Jonny Cooper on learning, growing, and facing new challenges on and off the field.

jonny-cooper-becomes-emotional-after-the-game Jonny Cooper shows his emotion after the 2019 All-Ireland final. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

YOU CAN ALMOST see the cogs turning in Jonny Cooper’s head when he starts talking. 

With every word, he gets more and more philosophical, delving deeper and deeper into his fascinating mindset. This isn’t Jonny Cooper the player, this is Jonny Cooper the person.

A person who is always learning, and wanting to better himself.

An extended break from football has given him a different perspective. And it’s been an enjoyable period of reflection. 

A DCU organisational behaviour and psychology Masters student, the 30-year-old has always sought to strike a balance in his life. There have been numerous failures and setbacks, he concedes, but at the end of the day, they make a person stronger.

Learning from mistakes and knock backs is key.

“I’ve always got what I deserved, whether that’s a failure, not getting points in the Leaving Cert or whether it’s a sending off in an All-Ireland final,” Cooper says. (“I got very poor points in my Leaving Cert because I played sports all the time and I thought that was going to be the be-all and end-all,” the six-time All-Ireland champion offered earlier.)

“My opinion is I’ve always got what I deserved. It’s important to reflect on those moments, go back into the eye of the storm, as difficult as it can be, and reflect. Get feedback and take the facts out of the situation, use the facts and the feeling and move on.”

“When we’re on a public stage and people are watching us on TV they can make very snapshot judgements of you as a person, as a character,” he continues, clicking his fingers on the word snapshot.

“That sometimes circles back around to you and people can have opinions on social media. You’re trying then to filter and talk to people that are important [to you], [find out] what is the reality of the situation: Am I this type of monster or am I actually okay or am I very good?

jonny-cooper-is-sent-off-by-referee-david-gough Seeing red in the All-Ireland final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I’m probably not any of them but I’m trying to find out which one is appropriate at a particular time. Ultimately, I’m just a human being who’s trying their best.”

That 2019 All-Ireland red card in the drawn match with Kerry. A tough time, he says. 

Cooper was the surely the most relieved man in Croke Park when his Sky Blues side lived to fight another day, after his first-half dismissal for fouling David Clifford.

“It was tough,” the Na Fianna man concedes, recalling the aftermath. “It’s not about me at the end of the day but at the same time, when something happens you, you’re trying to then filter that out: ‘Okay, what’s the facts of the situation? Do you deserve to be there? Yeah. Do the lads still have an opportunity in terms of the remainder of the game? Yeah, of course they did.’

“So you’re trying to have your body language, trying to have your communication, trying to be as normal as possible, and trying to be radiant in terms of a positive way, not trying to be radiant in terms of being closed.

“Those very, very small things I could control in that instance, you’re trying to influence.”

There was a battle in his own head: Would he play the next day? Did he deserve to play? Versus him being a more senior player of the squad who others looked to for guidance, lending advice and experiences.

Luckily, for Cooper, he got through it all, and blocked out all the noise surrounding the incident. 

“I wouldn’t have been aware of it,” he continues. “I’m currently not on, and wouldn’t be on social media and stuff at that time of the year anyway.

“Look, obviously people have direct access to you if they want, that’s just the nature of if and that’s what you sign up for. Nobody asked you to do it. Likewise, you don’t have to watch the TV, you don’t have to listen to the radio and so on.

“In saying all that, you have a job and you have a life, you have people and you have to walk around and drink a cup of tea or coffee, so people do ask you questions. People probably look at you funny and probably have certain opinions.

jonny-cooper-with-a-young-fan Cooper meets a young Dublin fan. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I’ve fell on both sides of the stool; I’ve listened to it and I’ve not listened to it, but you just take the facts out of a situation and just move on from it as best as you can. The All-Ireland sending-off was a good example and a good opportunity and lesson for me as well.”

“It’s very easy to have this conversation now,” he adds. Hindsight is a great thing. 

“A great experience and such a learning experience, but at the same time the cross-hairs were firmly between my two eyes, and that’s what would have potentially came with it.”

He knows he has no one else to blame, he has learned from it, and moved on. 

The big takeaway is he’ll do more pre-match homework on his opposing marker going forward.

“I just think I need to do more training, do more focused training and be more disciplined around my efforts,” Cooper stresses. “Be more mindful when I see Dean Rock kicking 100 balls — maybe I’m not doing the same in my own field in terms of challenging myself.

“I try to come back to the fact and the feeling, so what does it feel like? How should it feel like? I’ve been in lots of situations where I’ve got the better of a man by doing something obviously right, and I’ve been in the situation where someone’s got the better of me. 

“There’s lots of other small things, but you get what you deserve in my opinion, and if I do the necessary work and the necessary research, I’ll have an opportunity. I won’t necessarily be right but I’ll have an opportunity so that’s probably the main thing.”

This year, Cooper will have a few new challenges to contend with as a defender. 

The sin bin rule has replaced the black card penalty as a sanction for cynical fouling, and sees a player dismissed from the game for 10 minutes with no substitute allowed to replace them.

Overall, he thinks it’s a better rule for the game.

“I certainly like the idea of the punishment that comes with it,” he nods. “I didn’t not like the black card either to be honest, but I can see what they’re trying to do, trying to punish the team more so. In that regard, I think it’s something that should and could work.

joey-holden-grace-walsh-and-jonny-cooper Launching Avonmore Protein Gold with Joey Holden and Grace Walsh. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It’s just a matter of seeing how it goes over a number of games, see if any other little things arise, like maybe managing the timing of it. Overall I’m in favour and I think the lads would be as well.”

He also welcomes the challenge of the advanced mark. Its introduction has received mixed reviews over the past few months, but Cooper believes it’s a positive for defenders.

“My passion is trying to defend as best as I can and I think it will force you to be a better defender, in how you apply yourself to a situation,” he concludes. “If he [the forward] catches the ball, he’s going to stick it over so before the ball comes in, that’s when you’re going to be better, in terms of marking and so on.

“So that might make you train a bit harder, and focus on certain elements, that maybe you didn’t have that safety net in years gone by. So I can only see it as a positive and I’m looking forward to testing myself against it.”

A player, and person, who is always learning, and wanting to better himself.

Dublin defender Jonny Cooper has teamed up with Avonmore Protein Milk to launch their new premium protein milk, Avonmore Protein Gold.

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Emma Duffy

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