'I don't know what matches you've been watching': Linfield star Joel Cooper slams his own early season form in bid to improve
Joel Cooper is one of the most dangerous players in Irish League football right now. His darting and incisive runs create havoc for opposition defenders and he's scoring goals, such as the winner for Linfield in their 1-0 victory at home to Cliftonville in the BetMcLean League Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday night.
Suggest to the Blues front man, though, that he is enjoying an impressive campaign and his answer hits you like one of his left-footed thunderbolts.
"I don't know what matches you've watched. In the first six games I was really, really poor," he said in a cutting assessment of his early-season displays.
"To be fair I've probably stayed in the team because of injuries. With players like Jordan Stewart and Daniel Kearns coming back, that puts more pressure on me and there's the young lads too. When Charlie Allen has played he's been very good.
"In the last couple of games I've been better but I still think there's a lot more in me and it frustrates me when I don't do what I think I can."
Linfield manager David Healy thinks the 23-year-old is too tough on himself.
"I am my own harshest critic and the gaffer has actually said to me I need to be less like that," revealed the ex-Glenavon ace.
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"I don't think I've ever come off the pitch and been happy with how I've played. It's just my mindset. It's probably not a great mindset to have at times. There are things that stick in my head after a game and they can annoy me for a week.
"Then I'm thinking, 'I can't wait for the next game to come around'. I have found myself in good positions this season and it annoys me when I don't do more.
"Against Cliftonville on Tuesday, although I scored I didn't think I was good. I was disappointed. The moment that really annoyed me was when I was one-on-one with Jamie Harney and did nothing but win a corner."
It's worth pointing out that Cooper's sweet strike won the game. He ought to have been celebrating two goals against the Reds. Television replays showed that his shot after Richard Brush saved Shayne Lavery's penalty had crossed the line.
Asked for his view of the decision from referee Tim Marshall, there's more straight talk.
"It kills you. If that goal was given we would have been more comfortable and they would have had to come out more whereas at 1-0 they stayed in the game that bit longer and then it became edgy at the end," said Cooper.
"It could have made a big difference. Had they scored, that decision could have cost us the match."
It's coming up to three and a half years since Cooper, along with Paul Smyth, joined Northern Ireland's training camp during the Euro 2016 finals. Michael O'Neill saw both as the Irish League's bright young things and was keen to offer them international experience. Smyth, then at Linfield, has won senior caps since and moved to QPR and is currently on loan at Wycombe. Cooper left Glenavon to go on a scholarship in America and is now at Linfield.
Asked if their different career paths has been frustrating, Cooper replied: "I'm more frustrated with myself than anything that I didn't push on whereas he did.
"The season after that with Glenavon, I came home and struggled.
"Then I made a rash decision and went to America which wasn't the right decision.
"My decisions and performances have cost me but I'm glad to see Paul has gone on to do well.
"It shows it can happen. It can be frustrating that I didn't do the same but then again I'm playing at the biggest club in the country, have won a league title and I'm enjoying it.
"I would like to push on (across the water) but if it doesn't come I want to have a good career here and be happy."
• Northern Ireland Under-17s thumped Luxembourg 7-0 last night in their 2020 Euro qualifier.
Stephen Frail's team had previously lost to Italy and Turkey but showed their finishing prowess last night.