Jonny Cooper recalls ‘close call’ stabbing that left him with ‘buzz in head’
“There are several [physical] marks – once I touch my head here there’s a buzz in my head that goes off, there’s several on the back of my neck. Like, very, very close calls.”
Perhaps better than any of his contemporaries, Jonny Cooper appreciates the old maxim that ‘football is a game of inches’.
What if Dublin had lost the drawn 2019 All-Ireland final after his double-yellow dismissal in vain pursuit of David Clifford? There would have been no five-in-a-row, let alone six – and who’d have been the fall-guy?
Yet as Cooper, in fresh retirement, reflects on his decade of relentless success in Sky Blue, it’s another close shave that springs to mind.
“My training and preparation would have been slightly off, on reflection,” he says of 2019, while surmising: “You probably get what you deserve in lots of ways. Obviously, marking quality players, you are always going to have it to-ing and fro-ing a little bit, but I’ve had personal millimetre near-misses … not to be too crude about my own life and a few other things.”
It’s no secret that in September 2014, on his way home from a night out, he was stabbed multiple times in an unprovoked knife attack on Dorset Street.
The seven-time All-Ireland winner has spoken about it several times in the past … and even as he chatted yesterday at an event to promote tomorrow’s Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup final between UL and UCC, he reflected once more on a pivotal incident that shaped him not just as a footballer but as a person.
A few weeks beforehand, the Dublin defence had been filleted by Donegal. If they had been on the money for that fateful semi-final – if Cooper had been – he might have been preparing for an All-Ireland instead.
“I was in that situation because I played poorly, and I played poorly because I had poor preparation against Donegal that year, otherwise I wouldn’t have been out that night,” he says, matter-of-factly.
“There are several [physical] marks – once I touch my head here there’s a buzz in my head that goes off, there’s several on the back of my neck. Like, very, very close calls.
“The personal learning for me was if I prepared for a couple of days, or a couple of weeks, a lot better than I did ... I got ahead of myself, complacency, ego, all this sort of stuff kicks in.
“So there was a massive learning from many different respects,” he admits. “I’m gone now, the sun has kind of dipped on my career but when you’re in the sunshine, make hay … I’m sure the Dublin lads are doing all they can at the moment to maximise and squeeze as much as they can out of it.”
At 33, Na Fianna’s finest is no longer among them. His swansong as a Dublin starter, against Kerry, ended in agonising July defeat. His retirement wasn’t announced for another five-and-a-half months, but he has no qualms that he made the right call.
Every year, he would set himself an internal commitment – to find an extra 15pc more, not just physically or mentally but in terms of leadership and all the extra-curricular requirements needed to survive at this elite level. This time, he knew it was beyond him.
“For me, it was purely can I get to not only the level I expected in 2022 but kick on that 10 or 15pc. So it was a very clear-cut decision for me that I couldn’t get to that level,” he admits.
It wasn’t so much the fear of being exposed by younger opponents or Father Time itself, he stresses, while adding: “I certainly had conversations with Dessie [Farrell] that were brutally honest, we know each other for donkey’s years now so there were some really genuine and open conversations there about the realities of where I stood in general.”
What’s clear is that Cooper is at peace with his altered status “outside the circle” – even while admitting that “I miss everything, if I’m being honest.” He especially misses the connections and bonds with people who have “seen me at my worst, I’ve seen them at their worst and, conversely, at your best in lots of ways.”
Cooper the spectator (“I don’t know if I’d be able to morph that quick”) is gearing up for an “even enough championship” in terms of quality. He expects all the usual suspects to have a big say, including Dublin, while adding: “Obviously Kerry have that target on their back now and probably deservedly so.”
Looking back, he hesitates for a second before naming Colm Cooper as the best forward he marked.
And if he could single out just one match? That, too, has a Kerry theme.
“The replay in 2019,” he answers. “It just happened to be very vivid, I don’t remember too much about score lines or games and how you played, you just kind of moved on to the next.
“But 2019, because myself and Cian O’Sullivan were at a very close proximity and we both would have gone through months of an injury challenge that year, so that one in particular … more so the journey that you get to share, that 99.9pc of people in the audience don’t get a true insight towards. So that moment with Cian, the three or four seconds was something that definitely resonates.”
One of many great memories to cherish.
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