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Dublin: 11 °C Friday 22 February, 2019
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'There was definitely self-doubt': Cooper on overcoming obstacles early in his Dublin career

The Na Fianna defender is chasing his fifth All-Ireland medal on Sunday.

AS DOMINANT AN attacking force as Dublin have been in recent years, a large part of their success has been built on having the best defence in the country.

Apart from the occasions where Cian O’Sullivan is released to sweep in front of the full-back line, the rest of the Dublin backs are happy to go toe-to-toe with their markers. 

Jonny Cooper Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Often times, it means they could be left isolated with oceans of space in front for the forward to run into. For corner-back Jonny Cooper, it’s a high wire act he very much enjoys.

“I do, personally,” he says. “I haven’t always got it right in different ways. But you kind of have to be pretty clinical and pretty on point in terms of being very sure of what you may do in a particular situation, that you don’t have that safety net of playing in midfield or playing somewhere out the field in that regard. 

“Personally I like it. You can look at it the other way as well and say they have extra bodies out the field you’re a little bit safer. But I like it in that the preparation translates to actually what may happen in the game.

“In other words, the better my preparation or the more on point I can be, potentially the better outcome I’ll have. Which makes the preparation (more important) and values that whole side of it.

“I’ve had loads of mistakes, mistimed tackles and slips and invariably the opponents score points against you the whole time. So I guess earlier on in my career, certainly Paddy Brophy springs to mind a number of years ago, I slipped, goal and that was it.

“In terms of that play, and trying to move on as quick as possible. Definitely as I moved through my career, you’re able to transition and adjust yourself, I found it a challenge at the start, but it’s not much so now I guess, just try to turn it around and try park that play, and then try to move on.

“For example, the (Damien) Comer penalty (in the semi-final). That is a challenge but it’s something I enjoy and prepare as best I can.” 

Jonny Cooper and Damien Comer Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Dublin defence holds a very ruthless streak with Cooper, Philly McMahon and John Small the main enforcers at the back. The Na Fianna defender says they train with an edge, which helps then once they enter the cauldron on big days in Croke Park.

‘When we step over the white line as a group of players in training or a match, but I guess more so for training in terms of people are competing for places – it’s fairly robust. It’s fairly straight talking and shooting from the hip type stuff.

Cooper continues: “You’re getting it from different angles, you’re putting yourself under pressure in the position that you play, the guy who’s marking you is obviously trying to do the best he can but also the guy at the other end of the field playing in your position is trying to.

“So you’re getting it internally and externally from two different acts. It’s something I like is within our squad and has made it that bit more adaptable and interchangeable because we’re all going hammer and tongs to make ourselves better but as a by-product making each other better.

“If it’s too friendly it’s probably not the greatest but it’s friendly enough, certainly off the pitch it’s quite friendly, and then on the pitch it’s laser-focused at the task, job or opportunity that’s at hand.”

An All-Star in 2016, Cooper admits he overcame self-doubts from his younger days to become an established senior player. He was overlooked by Pat Gilroy when Dublin won the All-Ireland in 2011, despite captaining the U21s to All-Ireland glory and starting with DCU the previous year.

He made his senior debut against Armagh in 2012 but it wasn’t until Jim Gavin’s appointment in 2013 when Cooper really began to progress.

“Yeah, there was definitely self-doubt. That’s probably more of a personal thing with my own human make-up in terms of self-doubt, never mind the football.

“The football wasn’t going great in terms of being picked. I was playing okay for DCU, I was playing with a decent team, so that’s probably why I felt in my head that I probably deserved a shot.

Jonny Cooper Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Maybe I was on a platform below where they were, but I certainly wasn’t far off where they were. Yeah, it does creep in. And I guess it’s only when you get that opportunity and that run of games that it starts to get pushed away.

“The big thing of not getting picked is not being asked, that’s the big thing. If you make a mistake, that’s fine, but not getting picked is essentially you’re being told you’re not good enough.

“It does play with you, yeah, I guess, but it has worked well for me in the end.

“You know what it’s like not to be on the pitch so when you are there you appreciate the opportunity. Somewhere in the subsconsicous it’s probably sitting there saying, ‘Don’t pull up short here’.

“It definitely does add to the mix and the drive as to how the last couple of years have been successful. I suppose the challenge is to consistently do that.”

Cooper may be 28 with four Celtic Crosses under his belt, but he’s constantly seeking for ways to improve his game.

“For me, it’s probably not just that I want to be faster, stronger or a better tackler.

“There’s a group of technical aspects, but then there’s also a couple of lads coming up behind you that are trying to take the food off your table. That’s a driver.

“So between the technical and the competition. And then the third thing, it’s a cliche, but you’re just trying to make the most of the opportunity that you have.

“And being a little bit older you’re realising that it’s not and it never was about me, it’s about the people who helped me get there. The club and the different aspects of trying to be the best possible version of me, not only for me but also for the people that may be looking up to me around Na Fianna in terms of that.

“So I suppose there are a couple of different drivers and they have changed over the past couple of years in particular. It’s now more about making the most of the platform that I have more so than doing it for me.”

Jonny Cooper Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The build-up to an All-Ireland final is something Cooper has learned to deal with through experience, although he won’t fully feel free until the first whistle is blown on Sunday.

“I think for me personally it changed in that in the first year or two of it you have that external pressure with tickets, media and everything else that comes into it. Then as you move forward you’re then able to set yourself up in a way that gives you the clearest path or the most focus to get there.

“The build-up is that and it’s a challenge in that regard. From my experience, the happiest place you can be from now until then is when the ball is thrown in and it’s just kind of free then.

“Everything is gone, it’s just cut loose and you’ll never see it again I guess in many ways. Whatever happens then is kind of what’s in front of you. So probably two different aspects. The challenge in the build-up first and then the ball is thrown up and it’s just all free.

“You do hear it as in crowd noises and stuff. It’s obviously very loud but personally it doesn’t feel very loud. Maybe it’s concentration or focus or excitement in that it’s just, ‘Give me a shot at this thing in front of me.’ The Colosseum around you doesn’t actually feel as it actually is if you’re there watching another game for example.

“I think different people have different set-ups and stuff. Maybe if it’s your first or second you might be a little bit different to if you’re more experienced. I don’t know which is the best way but I’ve had different experiences.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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