Inter-county season a threat to the club game, says Cooper

The Kerry forward says that a calendar year structure for club games is necessary for the game at a local level to survive and thrive

Colm Cooper

Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan 

This year's All-Ireland football series was as good an advertisement for the game as any, with traditionally smaller counties putting it up to established forces of the game.

Longford beat Monaghan during the qualifiers, Clare made it as far as the quarter-finals and Tipperary almost embarked on a trail-blazing season which ended at the semi-final stage.

Dublin produced a fine second half comeback against Kerry in the semi-final and shared two incredibly close games with Mayo in the All-Ireland final.

After all is said and done, the season ends and the focus switches once again to club GAA. For many the lifeblood of the organisation, club games have been put on the back burner with the increased focus on the inter-county game.

Fixtures are pushed into the winter when conditions are tougher and are compressed in an effort to get everything completed before the end of the calendar year.

"The summer months are when it’s the best weather so you should be playing a lot more football," says Colm Cooper. "The problem is inter-county managers have so much power and in a lot of the cases have a very strong view on fixtures and when they want their county players.

"If you’re an inter-county player you’re going to be judged on the success of your team and you want them all during the summer and you don’t want them going back to clubs and picking up knocks or things. That’s the way it seems to be going and I don’t see it changing anytime soon."

Cooper pointed out that the football calendar can take its toll on players because of the intensity of the game now and how much players have to do to get up to the required level of fitness.

"[The fixture list] is very full-on. If you don’t play a lot of games during the summer, you’re going to have a backlog and it’s going to finish a bit later. That’s just the nature of it. Look, in an ideal world fixtures would be finished earlier but with us we’ll be finished on December 3rd so that’s not too bad compared to some of the years in Kerry where we’ve been playing up to December 15th and 16th and 20th. We should be wrapped up by December 3rd barring replays and things so that’s not too bad. That’s the price you pay when you have success so we’re happy to have that headache.

"I’ve said this in the past that in an ideal scenario you’ll continue to play games through the summer and it would finish in a calendar year. I think that would help everybody but the way championships are played and there are lulls during the summer and in most counties the priority is the county team. I just think if that continues it’s impossible to do it. They’ll just have to take that pain for the time being and I think it will be a while yet before we see the finals played, if we do see them at all, in the calendar year."

Dr Crokes clubman Colm Cooper in action against Loughmore-Castleiney in the Munster Senior Club Football Championship semi-final. Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan 

Many of the younger club players take the opportunity to go away for the summer months, with working visas available for those in college looking to work in the US for a few months.

"I was just chatting to other players and they were telling me about a few guys from their clubs going to New York and Chicago and if you were 19 or 20, finished college, why wouldn’t you? In most case, you’re only missing a game or two games, possibly league matches, so why wouldn’t a young player who’s not on a county side go and live the life?

"I think clubs are accepting that now, that that’s the way it is, and players are going away and pick it up in the championship when they come back. The system, if you like, is facilitating that. That’s just the way it is and I’m sure it’s the same in every county."

Asked whether he saw a day when the club and county players would become separate and counties would have a squad that would play exclusively for them he said: "Well, that's where it would go if it went any bit professional.

"I'd say if I was playing with Kerry and Kerry were in charge of my contract and paying me, I wouldn't get to play with Dr Crokes too often. It's a little bit like the rugby – they don't play with their club, they play with their provinces now and the country. So, I don't think that's going to change unless anything goes professional, and I don't see that coming in the short or medium term.

"Look, the club structure is what makes players. It's the first place you put on your boots and it's the last place you probably put on your boots. That's where you get spotted to play the high level with your county. So, the club is so important to people … we were just talking already with the lads about families keeping it going, generations of players coming through, it's the heartbeat, it's people in the club making sandwiches for teams after. It's what the GAA is all about, and the best things in the GAA are from the club structure, so I don't think that should ever be threatened in any way. Look, it's one of the best characteristics of what we have in the GAA and I think we should be safeguarding it, to be honest.

"It’s the first place you pull on your boots and the last place you probably pull on your boots. That’s where you get spotted to play at a high level for your county. The club is important to people. We were just talking about families keeping it going and generations of players coming through. It’s the heartbeat: people in the club making sandwiches and teas afterwards – it’s what the GAA is all about. The best things in the GAA are from the club structure.

"I don’t think that ever should be threatened. It’s one of the best characteristics of what we have in the GAA. I think we should be safeguarding it to be honest."