Colm Cooper on just how much the GAA has changed in his time with Kerry
"Gym and weights were kind of... I won't say optional but some were doing it, some weren't."
Colm Cooper should be held up as an oasis in the changing world of Gaelic Football.
Once, footballers were the prized stock. Once, being able to kick off both feet counted more than the numbers you'd hit in the gym. Once, your brain, your quick-thinking, and your creativity were superior to your power.
They still are but not everyone will accept that. It's easier, you see, to improve a group's squatting average and it's easier to design a programme for them in the gym rather than improve them as footballers. It's also easier to place your faith in physicality and conditioning because then you can have a disciplined side at least and you won't have to risk trusting your players.
Players and teams need to be trained and they need to be trained well, of course they do. But fitness levels should only be a supplement in football - the clue's in the name.
Colm Cooper has managed to come through it all.
— Conán Doherty (@ConanDoherty) December 25, 2015
He started in 2002 with his county and Kerry's loss to Armagh in the final that year changed the face of the sport. So he adapted too, he did the work and all the rest, but he never lost sight of how to win games of football. And, as lads emerged because of how fast and strong they are - and rightly so - no-one was ever able to surpass the heights set by the Gooch.
"When I started playing with Kerry in 2002, you trained Tuesday, Thursday and did something at the weekend. Gym and weights were kind of... I won't say optional but some were doing it, some weren't.
"It's a hell of a long way from that now," Cooper explained. "It's gym pretty much at least two to three times a week, it's pitch three times a week. It's looking after your diet - every team has a dietitian now. They're tracking your distance when you're running in training and in matches. It's changed.
"The world has changed, sport has changed, the GAA has changed. Before, there were three selectors and a manager. Now, there are logistics managers. That's just the nature of sport and you can give out about it or you can say it's the right way to go but that's just the way it is. I don't think about it too much, I just get on with it."
The perception is that someone as naturally talented as Colm Cooper wouldn't have much time for this mumbo-jumbo. He can kick a ball better than anyone, what else would he want to know?
Why would he need a 23-man backroom team, for example?
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) October 11, 2016
But the Kingdom legend sees the benefits. Even if they aren't universal.
"For someone who enjoys American sports and stats, I do enjoy some of it," he said. "I think some of it is overboard, if I'm being honest. I think people can read too much into things, there's probably a happy medium somewhere in there.
"That comes back to the manager and what he wants from that stuff, what information and things. The player's job is to play and that's all I really concentrate on to be honest.
"In my 15 years playing with Kerry, I probably wouldn't have gotten a whole pile of really hands-on coaching. It'd be kind of, 'go do what you do'. Obviously you're playing to a team style and the structure or whatever you're doing - but do it with the freedom that you want to do it.
"That probably comes back to trust; your manager trusting you to do the right things in the right games at the right times and that's probably something that I've benefited hugely from."
More so than any gym work.
He could still be benefiting from that in 2017. He genuinely hasn't decided whether or not he's staying on with Kerry and he makes no bones about that. He's spoken to Fitzmaurice on the phone recently, but it was nothing about next year. He's going to finish the season with his club Dr Crokes and then decide how he feels.
For now, he's just waiting on someone else to tell him.
"I heard Friday night before the All-Ireland final that I was definitely staying on and I heard last Tuesday night when I finished Crokes training so I was retired! The notifications on Twitter, there was quite a number of them."
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