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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 4 August, 2020
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In Dublin, we treat defending like an art form -- Jonny Cooper

The corner back says the champions put massive emphasis on what they do in the one or two-second contact zone.

Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

DUBLIN CORNER BACK Jonny Cooper says discipline and defensive focus is as much a part of Dublin’s current form as their flair options in attack.

You can’t wade far into a discussion about the reigning All-Ireland football champions without eyeing up ‘the bench’ ready to spring forth if any sharpshooter happens to be misfiring. But Cooper is a born defender and so points out that his own unit have also gone through their period of gelling.

“We are growing into each other’s pockets now at this stage,” Cooper says.

“Behind the scenes there are probably 13 or 14 backs that are coming together in different parts of sessions, working together, and you can see when guys get chances this year they have fitted in seamlessly.”

The Na Fianna man happily pushes another cliche into the conversation. ‘Hunger’, his plea of innocence in case anyone suspected Dublin didn’t want to win Sam in Croke Park next month. Yet hunger is never half as useful as tactical focus.

Contact zone

“We probably feel that defending is an art form, just like scoring,” says Cooper, before explaining why teams find the blue wall so difficult to navigate through.

“We just base a lot of emphasis on the contact zone and going into contact with somebody else and what you do in that one or two seconds you might have within touching distance of the ball. That’s all it is, a second or two at this level, I suppose it’s about maximising that initial phase.”

Getting the most out of a defensive system means not allowing vital personnel to get lost to the sideline. As they approach an All-Ireland quarter-final against Monaghan, Dublin footballers have yet to incur the reprimand of the black card. It seems that intensity and attention to detail in the contact zone brings positive results on Jim Gavin’s  discipline chart too.

“A lot of emphasis would be placed discipline, on and off the pitch, and aspects of game-play. Jim makes that very clear and it is not within his psyche to have disciplinary issues. I think, as a player, nobody can afford to get a black card and sit on the line for too long because invariably somebody will take your place.”

There it is, no escaping it. It’s ‘the bench’ that drives this Dublin side:

“It’s dog eat dog in there and I think that although we are all feeding into the one channel of a collective Dublin performance, we are all trying to get a starting 15 jersey. The hunger is massive because the competition is massive because the next guy could step up just as well, or maybe better, than you can in some cases.”

And, ominously, Cooper promises that their growing unity and commitment to improvement means Dublin still have scope to become an even better side over the next month:

“As a group we’d be very hungry and while we wouldn’t be overly critical. We’d pick out stuff and try and work on it. We’d recognise the good stuff and work on the stuff that didn’t go so well.”

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