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Dublin: 6°C Saturday 5 December 2020

Newly crowned All-Star Jonny Cooper continues to thrive in the face of adversity

Cooper opens up about that horrific knife attack two years ago, filling in for Rory O’Carroll and his relationship with Jim Gavin.

Jonny Cooper Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A MAYO MAN who stabbed Dublin GAA star Jonny Cooper hours after attacking a taxi driver has been given a seven year sentence with the final two years suspended.

Mark Lavelle (32) was on the drug crystal meth when he carried out the frenzied and unprovoked attack.

Mr Cooper received nine stab wounds to his forehead, eyelid and neck area and spent one night in hospital.

He had no recollection of the assault and gardaí were called to the scene after a passing taxi driver noticed the footballer stumbling along Dorset Street with his back covered in blood., November 2015


A time will eventually come when Jonny Cooper is no longer a Dublin footballer. There will be a day when he wakes up and it hits home that his inter-county career is over.

But at just 27, Cooper has plenty of miles left on the clock. In fact, he’s just after enjoying his finest season in the Dublin jersey. The Na Fianna defender picked up his first-ever All-Star last Saturday night, to go neatly with the National League, Leinster and All-Ireland medals he also picked up in 2016.

Not bad for a guy who was never earmarked as a potential star in his underage days. That didn’t stop Cooper. While the likes of Stephen Cluxton, Diarmuid Connolly and Ciaran Kilkenny were singled-out as prodigous talents well before they made their senior debuts, Cooper had to fight tooth and nail to get to where he is today.

It took him a long time to get here and that’s why he won’t consider taking time out like Rory O’Carroll or Jack McCaffrey.

“I’ve spent a couple of years trying to get onto the Dublin team so I’m in no position to head off,” he tells The42. “I’m enjoying it too much and it’s too much of an honour for me to turn down.

I’ve great respect for the lads, they’re living their lives and that’s what they’re there to do. But from my own point of view it won’t be happening unless I get dropped.”

That sums him up in a nutshell. He’s a competitor with a ferocious desire to win. The same attributes that Jim Gavin witnessed during the three years they spent together with the Dublin U21s.

Tom Rothwell with Jim Gavin and Jonny Cooper Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Gavin made Cooper captain for their All-Ireland winning campaign in 2010, and once he arrived on board as senior manager three years later, Cooper was a mainstay at corner-back in the same year they lifted Sam.

It’s a close relationship. He values his manager’s integrity above anything else.

“Jim, as everyone sees, is just an honest individual who puts an awful lot of time and effort into his job. He’ll be the first man to say he’s only a cog in the wheel like us all.

He’s just an honest individual and in fairness to him he gives you feedback honestly and he’ll tell you how it is honestly. And then he puts in a lot of man-hours I’m sure behind the scenes, to facilitate us as players to give us the best opportunity to perform on a given day.”

In 2012, his debut season, the young defender managed just 12 minutes in the championship, despite finishing the league with a run of games starting at corner-back in Pat Gilroy’s defence.

Gavin’s arrival a year later began Cooper’s accension into the championship team, and he hasn’t looked back since. But that’s not to say there hasn’t been adversity along the road.

Jonny Cooper Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Nothing was more horrific than the violent knife attack Cooper suffered 26 months ago. He was fortunate to rec0ver fully and, typifying his resiliance, he was back in Dublin’s starting team for the O’Byrne Cup just four months later.

“It’s an incident that you wouldn’t want to happen to anyone, but when you go through something like that it just changes your perspective,” he says.

“I’m lucky in many respects to still put on a pair a pair of football boots again. Very lucky. It just changes a bit of perspective and makes you value what you have.

“Not just sporting, but value what you have across all aspects of your life a little bit more. Thank God I’m able to put on a pair of boots again and go at it and go training every week because that’s important for me in my own particular life.

“It just makes you value things a little bit more.”

Last January, O’Carroll announced that he was putting his inter-county career on hold to travel. From that point, right up until the All-Ireland final replay, the Dublin full-back line of Cooper, Philly McMahon and Davy Byrne were under constant scrutiny.

Cian O’Sullivan, James McCarthy, David Byrne, Jonny Cooper and Philip McMahon Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ahead of the replay against Mayo, Pat Spillane made the following assessment of the trio: “If the three Dublin full-backs are 6ft, 6ft and 5ft11′, on the law of averages  - if you lamp in Aidan O’Shea, who is six foot fecking four – if the ball comes in high, the chance of the the guy who is 6ft4′ winning it is high.

“I would put him on the edge of the square and I would lamp in some high balls and I’d bring Barry Moran in with him and he’s 6ft6″ and I’d test them out early.”

Michael Fitzsimmons replaced Byrne at corner-back for the rematch, but that perceived aerial threat never surfaced as the Dubs retained the All-Ireland.

Cooper was well aware the last line of defence were widely singled-out as Dublin’s Achilles Heel all year long.

With two 2016 All-Stars now in the full-back line, Cooper at full-back and McMahon in the corner, that talk might queiten next season.

“Look, the full-back line has always been [called] the worst line on the pitch. Then when Rory went we were definitely [known as] the worse line on the pitch and everything else.

We’re just ploughing away and just trying to get a jersey to be quite honest. I wasn’t trying to fill anyone’s boots.

“Rory has his own style of play and he brought his own thing to the game, different attributes to the game. I was just trying to fill it with my own attributes and try to give Jim an option in the full-back line, that’s all.”

Jonny Cooper celebrates with the Sam Maguire cup Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

It’s been over 20 years since Kerry won a third straight All-Irelands in 1986, and 2017 will provide this talented Dublin team the chance to become the first team to match that feat.

“It’s all chatter. Nothing to do with us. Certainly inside of our circle there’s no mention of it. No mention of winning All-Irelands in fact, never mind three in-a-row. It’s hard enough to get a jersey off five or six lads going for the same position.

So if you start to get complacent and talk about winning trophies and taglines of three-in-a-row and two-in-a-row you’re going to get found out fairly quick. Jim won’t entertain any of that.

“It’s all chatter, it’s all outside the group. Inside the group we’re very much focused or will be very much focused going forward and on our performances on the field and wherever that may bring us.”

For now, Cooper is enjoying the break after a long inter-county campaign which started on January 3 and wrapped up on October 1.

“Mentally it’s probably even [tougher] than getting up for the physical challenge,” he continues. “It went on an extra two weeks with the replay and it felt like a couple of more weeks than two weeks.

“But it is a challenge when you’re fully engaged and the season is quite long. You’re privileged to get to the final day of the season. It’s fully engaged mentally and physically and it does take a toll. You do need a good break.

“You go from 100 to 0 in a matter of hours. You’re fully in, everything in with Dublin for [9 months] and then you’re fully off. In fairness to Jim he gives you a good break. [I'm] looking forward to getting back in in the next couple of weeks and just tipping away in the gym.

“Touch wood he’ll give me a ring to go back training in January time.”

That’s probably a safe bet.


To celebrate the opening of the brand new Life Style Sports flagship store in Arnotts, freshly crowned All Star Jonny Cooper visited the store to meet some of Dublin GAA’s biggest fans. Life Style Sports are proud and official retail partners to Dublin GAA. For more information about Life Style Sports visit:

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Kevin O'Brien

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