CORK hurling selector Pat Hartnett spoke of unsung heroes in Thurles last Sunday and throughout the course of the Munster campaign as he reflected on the county’s triumph over Clare.
One of those he may well have been referring to was Youghal’s Bill Cooper whose phenomenal work rate around the middle of the field has been a feature of the team’s remarkable turnaround in fortunes.
Cooper is one of those players you might not recognise walking down the street and he lets his hurling do the talking.
Coming from the Youghal club, he follows in a strong line of quality hurlers who have worn the Cork jersey with a lot of distinction.
One can go back to the 60s when Noel Gallagher was a Cork player at a time when the county did not have much success.
Moving on further you had two of the best and most durable players ever to don the red jersey and even to this day, the names of Paddy Hegarty and Willie Walsh conjure up members of bodies being put on the line when these two took the field in the early ‘70s.
Hegarty and Walsh had a teak-toughness about them that brought them great success at all levels of the game and they were very valued members of the 1970 All-Ireland winning senior team.
Hurling was a different game back then but those two Youghal men stood apart.
In many respects, Cooper follows in their footsteps, one hundred percent effort in every game and a similar grit about his play.
That was tellingly illustrated with his legitimate hit on Kevin Moran during the course of the win over Waterford.
Similar to Damien Cahalane’s stunning run out of defence last Sunday against Clare in the dying embers of the Munster Final, these moments in a game are defining and, like a rising tide, it lifts all boats.
Youghal’s Cork hurlers down the years all had that ability and one of the best of them all was Seanie O’Leary, a star among stars of the three-in-a-row team and a hero of the Centenary Year of 1984.
Liam O’Laocha, one of the Youghal club’s great servants on and off the field, believes that it only now that we are seeing the best of Cooper.
“Yes, that would be my thinking. Bill was part of a very good under-age team managed by Con Spillane but he didn’t really stand out then.
“Now, he was good but it took a little while for him to mature into the player that he has become.
“He played a bit of rugby for a while and when he came into the Cork panel he suffered a serious, lower-back injury that took him a long time to shake off.
“He had to be very patient and the physios, Declan O’Sullivan included did a lot of great work to get him right.
“I think it’s now that we are seeing him at his best and the fine hurler and athlete that he has become.’’
O’Laocha, likens him in many ways to his predecessors on the various Cork teams, Hegarty, Walsh and O’Leary, in particular.
“Yes, definitely, they all had that sheer grit and never give up attitude. Bill is tough out, he puts in a very honest shift anytime he goes out and it was the same with those other lads in the past.
“Maybe the sea air down here has something to do with it but we are certainly very proud of him and the contribution that he is making to this Cork team.’’
The Youghal club man did not forget some more Youghal players who gave service to Cork hurling teams, among them Daithi Cooney, brother of former GAA President Christy, Frankie Keane, Bill Cooper’s uncle Frank, Brendan and Eoin Coleman and Andrew Murphy.
“Yes, we have been represented at many levels down through the years and that has always been great for a club like ours.
“It’s Bill’s turn now and, hopefully, he will bring back another All-Ireland medal to the club and to the town in September.’’
Aptly spoken words by Mr O’Laocha who has watched the Cork midfield star develop into a key player in this Cork team.
They certainly know how to bring them through in the thriving East Cork club.