More than two weeks to go until Christmas and already inter-county players the length and breadth of the country find themselves wholly immersed in preparations for the forthcoming season. In 2019.
The demands placed on the modern amateur GAA athlete have been discussed to death, and will continue to be debated. Talks of two tier championships, club-only months and condensed seasons is all well and good, and is probably exactly what the average county player is looking for. But, if you’re a Dublin senior footballer, in rapid and obsessive pursuit of accolades that will stand the test of time, it’s easy to see why you might not want to stop at all.
Or why you might be a small be perturbed by talks of radical rule changes, and the potential impact those alterations may have on your ability to claim such lucrative prizes. All-Star defender Jonny Cooper was on hand at an AIG promotional launch at the National Indoor Arena this week, and, in his view, while not condemning the new experimental rules, he would have probably kept them as they are, had the choice been in his grasp.
“Personally, no, I don’t think so (would he have changed anything). Was I in favour of any of them, personally? No, probably not, to be quite blunt and honest about it. But, I guess we’ve been quite successful the last number of years, so why would we want something changed?”
“I saw a bit of a UCD game that was online a few weeks ago (where new rules were implemented), but that didn’t give me a sense of it, that much. I need to play in it to fully make a judgement call on it, but it does seem like five launched in will be hard to get your head around, certainly initially. But then, you have to adapt.”
Indeed the Na Fianna clubman, who has enjoyed something of a rest period since the club’s exit at the quarter final stage, was keen to express his relative satisfaction with the current regulations, admitting that his receiving of the heavily-debated black card in this years’ All-Ireland final victory over Tyrone was brandished correctly, and was an appropriate sanction at the time.
“I think the black card, when it’s done right and correctly. The example of me, that was done right and correctly and that’s what you get for committing such an offence. I just think that implementing the rule, as best as the referees’ can implement the rules as they were, would be a fine solution other than trying to put something else on top of it. Personally, I think some of the yellow-slash-black card offences haven’t been as clear or as defined as maybe in rugby, though I appreciate they are very different.”
“But yeah, (my incident AI Final), whatever it was, body collide, trip, that’s what the black card is. So, yeah, I got my just reward.”
Cooper is one of the older guard now, although at just 29, will feel he is still very much in his prime. The lure of the five-in-a-row ambition is a tantalising one, even if such finely-tuned athletes cannot admit it in public, or even to themselves, such is the degree of mental preparation required to succeed at the highest level. It is a difficult squad and set up to walk away from, given what they are capable of. An appropriate example is Bernard Brogan, a man who owes the county nothing, recently became a father to two young children, and yet, will his competitive drive and ambition be contributory factors in his decision to remain for another year?
“The last time I saw him (Bernard) was the All-Ireland week, in terms of training. So, that’s one element, his physical (fitness) – because he was flying, in fairness to him, last year and he put a lot of emphasis on the early part of the year and then obviously he got an injury. Then, he’s had two kids since then and work is busy for him too. You’d be hoping he can commit to it. And can he contribute? I definitely think he can. I’m sure he wants to get back into the thick of it.”
The new season begins in earnest for Dublin next week, as they take on Meath in a fundraising game in aid of Sean Cox, who was catastrophically injured in a cowardly attack in Liverpool. The game’s purpose is to support a most deserving cause, and so will serve a dual purpose for the players involved, both as human beings seeking to help a family in any way they can, and as elite inter-county athletes, looking to make their mark in the new season, before 2018 even concludes.
“My plan is to be involved (next week). I don’t know if that will be on the pitch, or what Jim has planned, but I’ll put my hand up and try getting a game under my belt, but he might have different plans.”
“Guys will be very keen to be involved in the game, particularly with the background to it and the context in which it is being played, and also guys will want to get back in in some shape or fashion and show their intent, and there is a whole raft of guys who want to be seen, as such, for the first time, from a management point of view, so you’ll probably get a few guys putting up their hand.”
It’s an early start for the All-Ireland champions, who have always been associated with using pre-season games and competitions as opportunities for giving players as low as 3rd string a fair crack of the whip to impress. There appears to be no let up in focus and desire as of yet, the challengers will be dismayed to hear. Yet, it’s only December. The selection boxes might slow them down enough for everyone else to be caught up by February. Maybe.