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Cooney itching for play

But Ireland scrum-half admits safety comes first

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CAUTION: John Cooney in action for Ireland. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

CAUTION: John Cooney in action for Ireland. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

CAUTION: John Cooney in action for Ireland. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland and Ulster scrum-half John Cooney has admitted that he and the majority of his fellow players are reluctant to return to action until it is safe to do so.

The IRFU are currently working towards an August 10 return, and although reports have suggested that a proposed busy schedule, including a potential Autumn Six Nations, has already been drawn up, Cooney revealed that the players have not yet been made aware of such developments.

An inter-pro series behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium is looking increasingly like the re-start point for Irish rugby, as long as the Government continue to ease Covid-19 restrictions.

While Cooney would relish that eventuality, he insisted that rugby players, like many Premier League players, are wary of putting others in danger by returning to competitive sport.

"I think it's a bit similar," Cooney said.

"The problem with rugby is it's an even bigger contact sport than, say, football. Obviously everyone is itching to get back playing, but it's the importance of getting back and everything being safe and healthy because it goes back to that.

"It's not really us who it's going to affect. It's going to affect people worse off, so it's whether you have interaction with elderly people or people who are vulnerable. It's important we look out for them.

"So whenever it's deemed fit, we are going to be back and I think everyone understands that."

Of all the players who had the most to gain from Ireland's postponed Six Nations game at home to Italy, one suspects that Cooney was very much top of the list.

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but following the humbling at Twickenham, Andy Farrell was likely to make changes for the visit of Italy, before a daunting trip to Paris.

Cooney has been knocking on the door for some time, and since being left of the World Cup squad, the scrum-half's form with Ulster added further weight to the suggestion that he should have been in line for his first Six Nations start.

Whether that long-awaited milestone occurred in Dublin or Paris, Cooney hinted that he was set to wear the number nine jersey in at least one of the two games.

"I think I've learned over the years through all those ups and downs so, to be honest, I kinda started laughing when that France game got cancelled," Cooney says.

"It's all you could really do. It was pretty typical. Then it (Covid-19) spiralled out of control.

"I understand that feeling sorry for myself, it's kind of how I've dealt with stuff over the last few years.

"Getting dropped over the summer for the World Cup, I was hugely disappointed, but I understand that it's not going to make me a better rugby player or even a better person day-to-day, so it is what it is. I can't do anything about it.

"All I can so is be in the right frame of mind and be physically ready to go when this is all clear and be as good as I was before that - that would kinda be my goal."