My Club and I: Jonny Cooper.
In this week’s My Club and I, we speak to Dublin defender Jonny Cooper about his club Na Fianna.
Based just off St Mobhi Road in Glasnevin, Na Fianna are one of the best known GAA clubs in Dublin.
While the club has been most successful with Gaelic football over the years, Na Fianna also caters for hurling, camogie and Ladies Football, as well as various cultural pursuits such as Céili music and Irish dancing at its substantial clubhouse in Glasnevin.
Na Fianna have won five Dublin Senior Football Championships (1969, 1979, 1999, 2000 and 2001), and last reached the final in 2005, when they lost to Kilmacud Crokes. Only five clubs in the capital have won more Dublin titles than them.
Their finest hour came in 1999 when they won the Leinster Senior Club Championship for the only time in their history, defeating Sarsfields (Kildare) in the final. They went on to reach the All-Ireland final the following March, losing on St. Patrick’s Day to famed Armagh and Ulster powerhouses Crossmaglen Rangers.
At that time, one of Armagh’s greatest ever players, Kieran McGeeney, was a major figure at Na Fianna, with the Mullaghbawn man and 2002 All-Ireland winning captain playing with the club for most of his adult career as he was based in Dublin at that time. Enda McNulty, one of McGeeney’s Armagh teammates, also played with the club.
Grounds: St Mobhi Road
Dublin SFC: 5
Leinster SFC: 1
All-Ireland SFC: 0
John Caffrey, an All-Ireland winner with Dublin in 1983, is a member of the club while 1995 All-Ireland winners Jason Sherlock and Dessie Farrell are other famous Na Fianna players of the past.
Cooper is one of three Dublin senior players from the club at the minute, the others being Niall McGovern and Tomás Brady. Conor McHugh, who scored 1-6 in Dublin’s All-Ireland U21 final win earlier this season comes from Na Fianna, as do senior Dublin hurlers Joey Boland and Martin Quilty.
Q: Where exactly is Na Fianna, and tell us a bit about what the set-up is like there?
A: Yeah, we’re on St Mobhi Road in Glasnevin. We have quite a big playing base – I think we have around 3,000 or 4,000 members at this stage with all the young kids that are involved. Our players mostly come from Glasnevin – that’s the main constituency. You’d get one or two from outside Glasnevin sometimes, we might get some lads from Phibsborough and Drumcondra. But Ballymun, St. Vincent’s and Erin’s Isle surround us though so there’s lots of big clubs around us.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in Glasnevin so only a five minute walk from the pitch. I was obviously up there more or less every day and doing all the usual stuff that kids do, playing football and hurling and things like that. I started down there when I was five or six, following in the footsteps of my two brothers and sisters. They all played there and still play there, while my parents were also involved a lot with the club too.
Q: What sort of facilities are at the club now?
A: They are great. The numbers are so big we need them to be. We have two full size pitches and two astroturf pitches, not full size. But even at that, you’d be struggling sometimes to get a training area, any night of the week. On a Saturday morning, you could have 200 or more kids covering every blade of grass down there, which is a great thing to see, but space is a big thing at the club at the moment.
We have great clubrooms too. They redeveloped them about eight or nine years ago and put a lot of money in. We have a fully kitted gym, a handball alley and an indoor hall. We have seven or eight dressing rooms as well as a bar and a function room. So we’re very lucky because we get a lot of income through the bar and function room from events that take place each week.
Q: Do you have a very strong family connection with the club?
A: Yes. My two brothers are both on the senior team with me – Niall and Mark, who are both older than me. My sister Julianne is on the senior camogie team, and then my parents have been involved in lots of ways. They played themselves and have coached a lot since they finished playing. Both are from close to the club. My father is from Santry and my mother is from Rathmines but she has been living in Glasnevin for most of her lives.
Q: Dublin GAA is experiencing a boom at the moment, and the Senior Football Championship is extremely competitive. How close are Na Fianna to making a breakthrough and how have you been going of late?
A: We probably underperformed over the last couple of years but in saying that, the last five years we won a couple of minors and U21s. So that core group of guys are now at senior level learning their trade. So while it will take a couple of years for us to push on and eventually get there, we are working towards it. We have a good manager in Paul ‘Pillar’ Caffrey, we’re young and we’re hungry and hopefully things will come good in the next couple of years.
Q: How has 2014 gone so far for Na Fianna?
A: Really good. We’re third or fourth in Division I, so from that point of view the lads are going well and the training is going well. ‘Pillar’ looks after us so everything is pretty well organised as you would expect from someone like him. So there’s a good atmosphere and a good buzz and with decent results coming in the league, it bodes well.
Q: What Na Fianna players are currently represented on Dublin panels, at the various levels?
A: On the football side of things, you have myself, Tomás Brady and Niall McGovern on the senior panel. There were a few on the U21 panel that won the All-Ireland this year, such as Conor McHugh and then we have seven lads on the Dublin minor team that have reached the All-Ireland semi-finals, four of them starting and three more on the squad, so on the football side of things we have a lot coming through.
Q: Is hurling strong at the club or is Na Fianna predominantly focused on football?
A: It would actually be even enough. Joey Boland and Martin Quilty are two Na Fianna players on the Dublin senior hurling panel and there’s a lot on the minor and U21 panels as well. So similar to the football, there are a lot of lads coming through and they will have hopes of having a strong senior team in a couple of years.
Q: Can you remember your first senior game for Na Fianna?
A: I think it was actually a championship game when the likes of Kieran McGeeney was still at the club, so it’s about six or seven years ago or so. I was only about 17 at the time so I didn’t play much of a part, but from what I remember it was against St. Vincent’s at Parnell Park.
Q: It must have been fantastic to have a presence like Kieran McGeeney at the club, given his status nationally within the game from his time as a player with Armagh?
A: Yeah, Kieran was actually there from he was about 21 or 22 so he spent about 11 or 12 years at the club and to have somebody like him, who obviously had such an aura about him and such a professional approach, was fantastic to be able to be a part of. I was a substitute most of the time when he was there but I was able to watch the way he did things and how he prepared.
Q: Is he still around?
A: No, I haven’t seen him around in a while because he’s obviously pretty busy with other things.
Q: Who are the club legends at Na Fianna?
A: We had a couple of All-Ireland winners back in the 1970s, the likes of John Caffrey, who is Pillar’s brother. Then more recently we had the 1995 lads, Dessie Farrell and Jason Sherlock, and then lads like Senan Connell more recently. So there were plenty of lads for me to look up to, and luckily enough I got to play with some of them when I was starting and they were coming towards the end of their careers.
Q: What’s the greatest day you’ve had in a Na Fianna jersey?
A: It’s actually a hurling memory! I think it was at either C or D level, back at U16. We hadn’t won anything in years, especially in hurling and even though we didn’t have the most talented guys in the world, we had a really hard working group and while it was only a C or D championship, it meant so much to us because we had genuinely worked hard. It’s little small things like that that really epitomise the club itself and the hard working guys not necessarily playing at the A grade, but getting the rewards in the end.