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staying afloat ‘The Dublin ship isn’t off course, it needs a slight dial turn’ – Jonny Cooper


Dublin's Jonny Cooper of in action against Mayo's Patrick Durcan during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Dublin's Jonny Cooper of in action against Mayo's Patrick Durcan during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Dublin's Jonny Cooper of in action against Mayo's Patrick Durcan during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

The texts dropped quickly after the Mayo defeat. Tributes moreso than condolences. As though the Dubs had died. Thanks for the memories.

You get it,” smiles Jonny Cooper now, “you do get it, to a certain point, as to why they are coming in. People, to an extent, were writing you off. Or maybe tipping their hat to you.”

Much like a bereavement, people probably just didn’t know what to say. Understandably.They don’t happen too often, these Dublin defeats. But they follow a discernible pattern when they do.

Cooper knows.

The loss. The fallout. The rumours. The WhatsApp messages about the supposed row or rows. Everything that was once so right is now utterly wrong. Like 2014 all over again.

“When you’re winning, everything is great,” he says. “Even if there’s things behind the scenes you’d like to be doing better. And when you lose, the whole ship is off.

“Yeah, so probably similar to 2014 in some respects.”

That it all happened so quickly has exaggerated the reaction.

Dublin were once an empire. Now they are rubble. There was never any in-between. No crumbling pillars, save for a couple of low-wattage performances in Leinster.

That Cooper doesn’t shirk or talk around the popular theories of Dublin’s demise leads you to suspect there to be less truth in them than many currently believe.

First, the breach of training restrictions and subsequent fallout. A most un-Dublin-like act of public embarrassment.

“The training was early in the year,” he points out. “At the time, it was a big storm. But it was so far removed from the last couple of games of the season, we’d be clutching at straws if we started using that as an excuse.”

Of Stephen Cluxton, whose spectre hung over Dublin’s season like a poltergeist haunting its former residence, Cooper is notably less concise.

Perhaps mindful of battles fought and loyalty acquired, he has no issue with his former team-mate, whose absence wasn’t so much the distraction as the lack of clarity or closure.

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“Stephen obviously needed his space and time, and due space, time and respect to work through that process himself,” Cooper says.

“So yeah, maybe in an ideal world ... at the same time you’re not trying to force anyone out or shut doors, I just think this is an amateur game.

“So you’re trying to give everyone space. But at the same time, him being able to come back in or whatever … it might have been in the background.”

And then there’s Cooper himself.

Sometime during the season, he was quietly made Dublin captain.

James McCarthy had filled that role in his and Cluxton’s absence during the league. There was no official statement or ceremony.

As vice-captain under Jim Gavin, Cooper was a natural, if not quite inevitable, choice.

But here’s the thing. If Cluxton and Jim Gavin were the accepted drivers of Dublin’s standards over the previous eight years, who would logically be to blame for any slippage other than their respective successors?

Cooper acknowledges that as captain and manager, “the guillotine falls on my and/or Dessie’s head.

“From that point of view, it’s a big learning and a big opportunity for me to reflect on practices, conversations, leadership styles, qualities to maybe do a bit better in the future.

“And that’s not to say I didn’t perhaps try or do my best. But at the same time, it does come around, when you get the loss, it does come back, deservedly so, to people that are leading the line.”

It’s an interesting concept. By unanimous decision, Cluxton was a brilliant captain. He achieved this by setting personal standards above anything seen before. But also, by vocally and zealously holding/dragging everyone around the team to the same levels.

What, if anything, does last year say about Cooper as a captain?

“From a leadership point of view there’s definitely a lot of learnings for me in terms of what does it look like; what does it need to look like? Should it have looked different? Could I have influenced more?

“You pull up the mirror like in 2014 and get a good deep dive into your soul to see were you really there or were you really off or a little bit off.

“Taking a look at that space for me: I changed roles 11 or 12 months ago and did that affect my ability to possibly influence the rest of the guys, particularly the younger guys, the newer guys on the panel? That’s for me to reflect on and see where I can add value. I know that’s always the question but particularly this year.”

In all likelihood, the sample size is too small and both Cooper’s captaincy and Farrell’s management will be viewed not through the narrow prism of 2021, but what comes next.

Where Dublin go now will be interesting. They will make for compelling viewing in 2022.

Like anyone with a functioning brain, Cooper would welcome back Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey in the morning if they were inclined to return.

But judging by his own demeanour, Cooper feels the issues which afflicted Dublin this year were largely self-contained.

“You get what you deserve,” he insists. “Maybe that’s a crude way of looking at it or a harsh way of looking at it. But at the same time, in those clutch moments, you start leaking and can’t produce what we have in the past, you have to reflect on practices.

“You have to reflect on conversations. You have to reflect on environments, systems – everyone needs to reflect.”

“Albeit in the moment, it seems as though the ship is completely off course – but I don’t think it is. I just think it’s maybe a slight dial turn that needs to happen.

“So we’ll have those conversations. We’ll take a look at ourselves. But look, it’s any number of things,” he adds, “there’s no perfect solution here.”

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