Cooper hopes Cork hurlers have learned some lessons
By John Harrington
Almost six months have gone by since Cork’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final defeat to Limerick, but the passing of time has done little to salve the sting for Bill Cooper.
When you lead an All-Ireland semi-final by six points with six minutes of normal to play but conspire to then lose it in extra-time, there’s no easy way to process the gut-wrenching disappointment.
Limerick’s subsequent All-Ireland Final victory would have only deepened regrets on Lee-side, but Cooper hopes that at the very least he and his team-mates will have learned some valuable lessons from the experience.
"It was very disappointing really,” he admitted. “You go away, lick your wounds and come back with an added energy to try and go one step further.
"We’ve a lot of learnings to take from [the loss to Limerick]. It was bitterly disappointing, there’s no two ways about it. It was a very, very hard couple of weeks after it but, to be fair to Limerick, the best team won.
“That’s the way it is in sport, we have to hold our hands up. We’d no excuses. We will look back on it and say we could have done things differently but when the dust settles, that’s sport. That’s the beauty of it.
"We’ve reviewed it and will do [on an] ongoing [basis]. If there’s little things that keep cropping up and there’s learnings to take from it we’ll definitely look back. That’s what you have to do."
His season might have ended in disappointment, but Cooper can still be proud of his own performances in 2018.
He was a rock in the middle of the field for Cork and his performances at club level earned him a county medal with Imokilly and the Cork Club Hurler of the Year award.
The 31-year-old Youghal man is something of a late bloomer. He first joined the Cork panel in 2011 but missed out in 2012 and 2013 with a back injury.
He returned to the panel in 2014 and is now playing the best hurling of his career which he puts down to his own personal desire to constantly strive for improvement.
“As you get a bit older and a bit more experienced you try to make incremental changes to keep improving.
“And in the last couple of years, with the younger lads who’ve come into the squad, they’ve been a breath of fresh air.
“You can see it from the Under-21s the last couple of years, they’re incredibly talented players. That breathes an extra bit of motivation and competition in to the whole squad."
The midfield partnership he’s formed with one of those ‘younger lads’, Darragh Fitzgibbon, has been a hugely effective one for the past few years.
Cooper’s game intelligence, toughness, and experience combined with Fitzgibbon’s athleticism and skill has made for a very potent combination in the Cork engine-room.
"He’s ferociously talented, a very good player and brilliant to play with,” said Cooper.
“The likes of Mark Coleman and Shane Kingston, Robbie O’Flynn, Tim O’Mahony, lads like that, they’re very good players as well.
“Even this year over the winter, there’s lads from the Under-17s team of a couple of years ago brought in. There’s more competition and that can only be good."
Cooper knows Cork aren’t far away from the standard required to be the best team in the country. You don’t win back to back Munster titles in this current era unless you have a lot of quality.
But he’s just as keenly aware too that the level of competition means you can’t take anything for granted if you want to stay at the cutting edge of the game.
"[The margins] are very tight,” he said. “Any one of six to eight teams can beat each other on a given day. The results showed that last year. Every game, there’s a couple of points in it. That’s the reason you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. It’s very much a game-by-game approach."
“It’s very much about trying to improve and focus on the next game up. Our focus was on a challenge game with UL last week, and now it’s shifted on to Kilkenny this weekend.
“That’s the way we approach it, even in the championship. You just can’t look too far ahead. It’s all about the league game this weekend."