NEALE Cooper had grown disillusioned with Hartlepool United’s seemingly irreversible plight – and so it came as no surprise when confirmation of his resignation finally arrived.
It was known in the aftermath of Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at bottom club Bury that the 48-year-old was set to call time on his second tenure at Victoria Park, the news belatedly breaking shortly after 5.15pm yesterday.
Locked in the dressing room some 30 minutes after the Bury loss which saw Pools replace their opponents at the foot of League One, Cooper delivered to his players what proved a farewell address.
In it he talked of “them sticking together”, “fighting their way out of trouble”, for he knew that he would not be part of their quest to escape relegation.
He emerged to talk to the press minus the fight and fervour which had characterised previous post-match interviews – his mind was made up.
The emotion had been drained, his passion sadly suppressed by a ruinous run of results during which he had vowed to battle on.
But a string of lacklustre performances had left Cooper browbeaten into submission.
His tone on Tuesday night did not waver, the highs and the lows had plateaued into a sorry sounding of resignation, the most likeable of men was clearly suffering.
Cooper had sought solution to his side’s woes by altering personnel, rolling out new tactics and mixing his method of motivation.
But when fortunes failed to improve – culminating in defeat to the only Football League club without victory – he took the definitive decision to reluctantly offer his resignation.
Chief executive Russ Green – a friend of Cooper’s - has been the only member of the Pools hierarchy at Gigg Lane on Tuesday, and he cut a shocked and saddened figure as the situation became apparent that Cooper had had enough.
As for the players, the boss had long since suspected that several were not on board with his message, and no fewer than eight senior stars had at some juncture been demoted to the bench this term.
But no matter his actions, the response he craved was not forthcoming, leading to yesterday’s decision to stand down.
Cooper feels let down by his squad and, while the club statement which accompanied his departure stated “he believes they can secure League One status with someone else leading the campaign”, he had only 24 hours earlier admitted it would be hard to escape the drop.
That, though, is no longer of his concern, and that will, in many respects, come as a relief.
Cooper repeatedly spoke of being “mentally tired”, and no one can ever question his commitment to the cause, but it had taken its toll.
When a man famed for his ready-wit and mischievous grin is reduced to a state bordering on tears such is his hurt, then the end is evidently in sight.
Cooper contacted SportMail last night to offer thanks for the support during his 11 months back at the club, and he will now return home to Aberdeen.
He will be back, his affection for the town and its people runs too deep for him not to one day return.
By then his trademark smile and endearing effervescence would have hopefully been restored.
His suffering is now over.