For the third year in a row, Dublin City University can lay claim to man who raised Sam Maguire on All-Ireland final day. This year it was the turn of DCU graduate and Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton who followed in the footsteps of Bryan Cullen and Michael Murphy (2011 and 2012 respectively) to captain his side to glory in the football championship.
In all, there were a dozen players involved in the Dublin setup this year that are either DCU graduates or presently studying in the Glasnevin University. Johnny Cooper is one current student who was a fixture in Jim Gavin’s side throughout the year and described the feeling of winning an All-Ireland as dreamlike.
“It’s definitely surreal and I’d suppose everyone else would be looking on at your county playing over the years so it was a nice feeling at the final whistle. There was a bit of relief afterwards. There’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes that most people don’t see.”
This year’s Dublin side was a relatively young and inexperienced team, one which might have been susceptible to crumbling under the pressure of All-Ireland final day. However, Cooper argues that the pressure never reached such heights.
“It was certainly nerve-racking but, for us, we were trying to treat it as just another game the best we could and play the game rather than the actual occasion. It was nerve-racking but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be.
“We tried just to cocoon ourselves a small bit from media and stuff like that which we can’t control. We can’t control what people write and people say about us so, to be honest, it doesn’t really influence what we do on the pitch. We have our own set targets and set goals and we’ll do our best to stick to them as a group and not really listen to anyone else if we can.”
This year was Cooper’s first full season in the Dublin senior team and, watching from stands as Dublin last won the All-Ireland, the Na Fianna man cites that particular spectating experience as a source of inspiration for his rise within the county’s GAA ranks.
“Looking on the last time  to see some of the lads and you would’ve known some as well so I’d suppose you would’ve wanted to get that experience under your belt if you could. That was two years ago now so it certainly was one of the motivating factors.”
Johnny Cooper’s elevation to the starting team of the senior panel might have been attributed his relationship with Jim Gavin. After all, Cooper was most notably captain of Gavin’s All-Ireland winning side in 2010.
“I’ve known Jim through a number of underage setups in the last couple of years so I’d suppose it was helpful but at the end of the say he was giving the jersey to whoever he felt would do a job and thank god I was one of them. But it could have been many other people who didn’t even get a run and didn’t even make the squad.”
One of the main features of Jim Gavin’s management this year was the freedom he granted to his wing-backs to go forward and attack. Despite the vulnerabilities that this may place on the full-back line, Cooper says the style of play was suited perfectly to the players at Gavin’s disposal.
“Just as forwards have to kick the ball over the bar, we felt that as defenders, it was an art as well. Whether it be tackling or getting out in front of somebody, we felt that it was something we were going to work on. Jim has brought open football type of game and I think it suits us because we’re all well capable of expressing ourselves in various ways and I think it definitely suited us the way we wanted to play.”
While Cooper is technically still a DCU student, his GAA life at the university is all but over. With a Master’s Degree thesis to be submitted in the coming in the coming weeks, the footballer’s time on campus will be largely academic and, unfortunately for the college’s senior side, he won’t figure at any point during the quest to reclaim the Sigerson crown.
However, Cooper believes that DCU’s main goal this year is to return to the top of the pile of higher education football.
“There are so many talented guys in the college at the minute so there’s no reason why they can’t [win the 2014 Sigerson Cup]. I’d suppose it is tough getting back to training relatively soon after lads have had a long hard year but the aim will be to bring the Sigerson back. It was a disappointing enough year last year so that will definitely be one of the aims for the college itself.”