Kerry footballer Colin Cooper – Lonely but well-worn road recovery from injury

Apr 29, 14 Kerry footballer Colin Cooper – Lonely but well-worn road recovery from injury

At this moment in time, the road back for Colm Cooper is long. News of the Kerry forward’s anterior cruciate ligament injury was compounded on Wednesday morning when it was revealed that he was facing an even lengthier rehabilitation than initially anticipated due to the fact that he fractured his knee in the incident as well, requiring a more complicated form of surgery and recuperation programme to deal with the problem.

By Arthur Sullivan in the


Colm Cooper is the Lionel Messi of Gaelic football. There is no other player in the game at present who commands the respect, admiration and affection that Cooper does, not just in his native county, but across the whole island of Ireland. The most commonly heard refrain following the announcement of the severity of his injury was not: ‘It’s a blow for Kerry’ but rather, ‘It’s a blow for Gaelic football.’

Perhaps the reason why Cooper’s injury has disturbed the GAA public so much is that he seemed to be at the very apex of a remarkable career to date. He was absolutely outstanding in the 2013 championship, and won his eighth All Star in November. Even in the final seconds before his devastating injury occurred, he was in full flight.

Having received a ball 25 metres from goal to the left, Cooper shaped as if he was going to loft an effort at goal. Then in the blink of an eye, he shifted his body to the right and bent for goal, leaving three Castlebar defenders – Eoghan O’Reilly, Tom Cunniffe and Patrick Durcan – stunned and trailing hopelessly in his wake. Out of nothing, he was gone. It was Cooper at his very best. How unfortunate that five second symphony would end with Cooper in a heap on the ground, clutching his right knee.

“Colm has been one of the luckiest – and also well-conditioned – of players over the years and I can’t remember the last time he had to come off injured in a match,” said former Kerry boss Pat O’Shea of Cooper after the incidents, and how true his assessment is. Since making his championship debut for Kerry back in 2002, Cooper hasn’t missed a championship game for the Kingdom. He has started all but one – a 2009 qualifier against Antrim – and in that time, he has avoided injuries of practically every kind.



Kerry footballer Colin Cooper won`t has a long and lonely road from recuperating from injury - Picture by

Kerry footballer Colin Cooper won`t has a long and lonely road from recuperating from injury – Picture by


The fact that Cooper hasn’t been in anything like this position before, and that he turned 30 last summer, makes the task ahead of him his greatest challenge to date. Given that he will miss the 2014 season, Cooper will be close to 32 before he can expect a return to competitive action for either Kerry or Dr Crokes.

And he is battling one of the most dreaded injuries there is in sport. “It’s the end of your season,” explained renowned physiotherapist Ronan Carolan to last summer. “You have two cruciates in your knee, the anterior and posterior cruciate. The anterior stops the lower part of your leg going forward. It is probably one of the prime stabilisers in the knee and there would be other structures that would assist with that.

“You’ll often find when someone is changing direction, decelerating, landing, twisting, that you can put too much stress on the cruciate and hence a very important stay within your knee to a degree, ruptures, breaks, and will sever.”

Yet, Cooper has no shortage of people to look to in the world of GAA for inspiration as he begins his recovery. Cruciate knee ligament injuries are an unfortunate part of life in the modern game, but it is very possible to come back from them, often stronger than ever. As Colm Cooper begins that long road back, we look at some of those who have walked it before him, and come out the other side.




One of Pat Spillane’s proudest achievements from his career is being one of the first Gaelic footballers to come back playing after rupturing his cruciate knee ligament. For a man with eight All-Ireland medals and nine All Stars, that’s saying something. “Remember, I was the first person in Ireland to come back playing football after rupturing a cruciate ligament,” he told in 2012. “I was told that I would never again play football, and I came back and proved them wrong.”



After coming back from the injury, Spillane went on to win three more All-Irelands and three more All Stars (all in 1984, 1985 and 1986). He firmly believes he played the best football of his career after his cruciate ligament operation and recovery.




Cooper’s only peer in modern GAA is Kilkenny hurling legend Henry Shefflin, and he too has suffered the dreaded injury – twice, on both knees. He suffered it for the first time on his right knee in the 2007 All-Ireland final, but recovered in time to play a full part in the 2008 championship. Most famously of all, in the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, Shefflin went off after 22 minutes with a knee injury (left, this time) which was subsequently confirmed as a cruciate knee ligament injury.

Up to 8,000 people showed up at a Kilkenny training session in the week before the subsequent All-Ireland final as rumours of a miraculous return from Shefflin was confirmed by his full participation in the session. However, there was to be no miracle. Although Shefflin, somewhat incredibly, started the All-Ireland final on September 5, he lasted just 12 minutes before his knee gave way, and he had to be substituted. In the end, Shefflin was out for nine months and didn’t return again until June 11, 2011, when he hit 0-9 against Wexford in the Leinster Championship semi-final, Kilkenny’s first outing that summer.



From there, Shefflin quickly returned to the elite of the game without any obvious signs of lingering effects from the injury. He went on to win All-Ireland medals in 2011 and 2012 (his ninth – the record), All Stars in both seasons, and the Hurler of the Year award in 2012. In 2014, his 16th season as a Kilkenny senior, the 35-year-old remains an integral part of Brian Cody’s team. That he suffered his second cruciate knee ligament injury just four months shy of his 32nd birthday will serve as a particular inspiration to Cooper.




One of the most recent examples of a high profile inter-county footballer returning to top level action after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury is Mayo captain Andy Moran. In the 2012 All-Ireland quarter-final against Down at Croke Park, Mayo’s talismanic forward suffered the injury, and it looked extremely serious at the time as he required lengthy treatment on the field before being carried off on a stretcher, with his head in his hands.

Moran of course missed Mayo’s subsequent charge to the All-Ireland final, and could only watch on with crutches as his teammates were beaten in the decider by Donegal on September 23. Then in October, Moran’s club Ballaghaderreen won the Mayo senior title, a glorious day for the club but one Moran would have dearly loved to have been a part of on the field.





He underwent a difficult recuperation over the winter of 2012/2013 and missed Mayo’s entire league campaign the following year. He eventually made his return in spectacular fashion on May 19, coming off the bench to score a goal in Mayo’s 4-16 to 0-11 win over Galway in the Connacht quarter-final. Despite having missed so much time, Moran didn’t take long to fight his way back onto the Mayo first XV, and the dream which he had been deprived of the previous year – leading his county out on All-Ireland final day – was restored when Mayo reached the All-Ireland final for the second year running.

Unfortunately for them and Moran, they suffered defeat again, this time against Dublin, but Moran’s road to recovery was complete. He was one of their best players in the final, scoring 1-2, and this February, he has featured in both of Mayo’s league games – the first football he has played in that competition in two years.




Dermot Earley’s inter-county career ended somewhat abruptly last May when he was forced to bring forward his retirement after suffering a back injury in the warm-up to a league game against Dublin. What was so frustrating about that for the Kildare midfielder was the fact that he had spent most of the previous 18 months overcoming a serious cruciate knee injury, which he had managed to do at the time the back injury occurred.





Just weeks before being forced to announce his retirement, Earley had said his knee was better than it had ever been before. “The knee is fine. The knee has worked well. It’s as good as it’s ever felt to be honest. Hopefully that will continue. It’s been through a lot but it’s holding up good and it feels solid,” he said on March 14, 2013.

In 2009, Earley won his second All Star after enjoying one of his best ever seasons for the Lilywhites. However, in a league game against Laois in 2010 he suffered a severe cruciate ligament injury, tearing up to 90 per cent of the ligament, having already damaged it earlier in the year at a training session in Ballykelly. The strength of his quads and other muscles enabled him to battle on for the remainder of the 2010 season, but he missed most of the 2011 and 2012 campaigns as he underwent various operations and rehabilitation to overcome the problem.

“I hadn’t torn it fully but I had torn it and I was able to go away and work really hard to build up my leg so that I could play without it,” he explained in an interview last summer.”I did, and got back but each game, and we had a Qualifier run that summer (2010), so we were playing every week, and every week I was doing a little bit more damage, a little bit more damage, and I was getting through the games. But then eventually, I was on my own once and went to kick the ball in that All-Ireland quarter-final (v Meath) with no one around me, and when I came down after kicking it, it just kind of buckled and I did real damage then so that was the end of it.”

Remarkably, Earley made a full recovery from that injury, despite the severity of the damage done. In the end it was the back injury which forced his retirement last May.




One of the greatest modern exponents of the centre-half-forward position, Meath playmaker Trevor Giles, a physiotherapist by profession, suffered a cruciate ligament injury in Meath’s Leinster final defeat by Kildare in 1998. Being so professionally versed in the techniques and practices required to recover clearly benefited Giles, as he made a very quick return to action, returning in around seven months – at least two months quicker than most recoveries, and in an era when the medical and scientific knowledge around the injury is not what it is today.

Giles’ recovery was rendered all the more spectacular by his performances in the 1999 championship. He won the Footballer of the Year award and his second All-Ireland medal, scoring 0-4 in Meath’s final victory over Cork. He played for Meath until 2005 and was selected for the Irish International Rules team in 2002.





Giles had some encouraging words for Cooper when discussing the Kerry forward’s injury with the Irish Times this week. “Mine was reasonably straightforward in that they didn’t have to remove cartilage. It was a ruptured ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and it was fixed,” he said. “The operation can be more complicated but your rehab is in very good hands. Because it’s so common, surgeons are doing a lot of operations and have become very practised at it. I think recovery rates are 97 or 98 per cent, or even closer to 100.”


That is just a brief selection of some of the elite level GAA players who have come back from cruciate knee ligament injuries. The list is long, and unfortunately, getting longer all the time due to the speed and intensity with which modern GAA is played. Gearóid McKiernan (Cavan), Colm O’Neill (Cork) and John Galvin (Limerick) are others who have suffered the injury in recent times but the positive news for Cooper is that, like Giles said, recovery rates are extremely high now, almost at 100 per cent.

All that suggests Cooper’s return is just a question of time. And whenever that happens, no matter how long it takes, it will have been worth the wait.



 For full links to this article by Arthur Sullivan in please (CLICK HERE)



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>