Speaking last November, Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper was clear. Winning an All-Ireland club medal wasn’t, he insisted, the only box he had left to tick before he pulls the curtain on a decorated career, but it was one that remained right near the top.
In fact, it means so much to Cooper that Kerry hero Ger O’Keeffe reckons that should Dr Crokes win today, he rates Gooch’s chances of returning to the Kerry set up as “less than 50pc.”
Still, talk of what could happen should they win will sound like reckless talk to anyone of a Crokes persuasion. They have seen too much to get bogged down in such idle chat.
For the last ten years, theirs has been a story of near misses and heartbreak and unfulfilled promise when it came to the All-Ireland club title. They came and tried and failed.
And still they have come back for more.
Given his talent and profile, Cooper’s woe in terms of the club championship has always grabbed the limelight. The cruciate knee ligament injury picked up against Castlebar a couple of years ago was followed by AIB’s ad campaign that rammed home the message he had – once again – missed out on the chance to collect club football’s biggest prize.
Today, Cooper and Crokes are back though their campaign began with perhaps less expectation than in previous years.
Having played in three consecutive semi-finals, they saw two years in the relative wilderness, and it looked like they had missed their chance.
But this year, All-Ireland-winning manager Pat O’Shea was brought in and he pulled together a heavyweight management team.
Eddie ‘Tatler’ O’Sullivan was a selector with Mick O’Dwyer as he assembled his all-conquering side while Niall O’Callaghan is part of the Kerry set-up today. Mike Buckley who, along with O’Shea, was part of the successful side in 1992 is also included while Harry O’Neill’s CV includes three county titles with Crokes.
Despite the stellar backroom team, O’Neill explains that there was less expectation around the place going into their All-Ireland semi-final clash with high-flying Corofin.
“We were coming into the game against Corofin on the back of three recent All-Ireland semi-final losses and after those three losses we had two lean years really so there was no great expectation at the start of the year,” O’Neill recalls.
“What happened was Pat O’Shea got a management team together and tried to get as many people within the club to become involved. Along with the players and the backroom team the idea was this year to try and get this thing done as a club. I think it was a case of work hard and see where it takes us.
“And what has happened is that this low-key approach involving all the club has taken us to Croke Park and just one win away from achieving our ultimate ambition.”
There will be no shortage of motivation to take that final step. Apart from the three semi-final defeats, there’s still a handful of survivors from the side that lost to Crossmaglen after a replay a decade ago.
And O’Neill agrees that despite all their success, the club have an itch to scratch.
“I suppose they feel that they have always been there or thereabouts. And using that phrase again, they haven’t fulfilled their potential by winning in Croke Park.
“They are putting everything into it this time around to see if their destiny is to win the All-Ireland final in Croke Park and one hopes that they will achieve this because of all the hard work that they have put in, some of them for a decade now. As a management team we have found the lads to be very positive, they have worked very hard and we could not have asked any more of them.
“I’m not sure whether they’re mad driven but they are focused on trying to achieve a goal and something that has eluded them and they know that they face driven opponents on St Patrick’s Day.
“If they manage to achieve their ultimate goal they will have richly earned it.”
Cooper et al roll up to Croke Park today for what might be one of the greatest players of his generation’s last chance to add an All-Ireland club title to his haul.
Ever since he was the mascot back for the successful team back in 1992, it seemed written in the stars for him to lift the Andy Merrigan Cup as a player.
All that remains to be seen is whether the sporting gods will grant him and the rest of the Crokes squad that perfect symmetry.