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Sunday 23 September 2018

Ulster's Cooney happy to do it the hard way

Munster v Leinster Live St Stephen's Day, TG4/Sky Sports Action, KO 3.15

Ulster’s John Cooney has been unafraid to move in order to get the best playing opportunities. Pic: Sportsfile
Ulster’s John Cooney has been unafraid to move in order to get the best playing opportunities. Pic: Sportsfile

John Cooney is 'The Poster Boy' for the IRFU's Elite Performance Director David Nucifora.

The understandable message being peddled is that Ireland would be best served were all the best players to be spread more thinly across all four provinces.

In this regard, the movement of Cooney can be mapped from Leinster to Connacht and on to Ulster.

"It's just nice to finally get my shot," he said at a Kingspan-sponsored Ulster Media Event.

"I've been waiting for this for a long time. In my head, I've always deserved it.

"For me, it's about getting where I want to be. I've had to take a lot of setbacks and I've had to work on my game."

The former Gonzaga College and Leinster scrum-half has finally found somewhere to play where he is 'The Man.'

At Leinster, Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss stood in front of him. No matter what.

The reluctance to move from Leinster, shared by many, has been embraced by Cooney.

"It's like anything. It's self-belief, like my family have always believed in me.

"I've always wanted to get to where I want to be. You have to do what you have to do to get there.

"I knew I had to move and it was the right decision.

"I wasn't happy to be average or be third or fourth choice."

On the advice of then Leinster coach Matt O'Connor, Cooney went out on loan to Connacht in 2014, while getting back from shoulder surgery, eventually making a more permanent arrangement.

"I didn't know any of the players, any of the plays. Ian Porter was playing well. That was the first phase of trying to break into the team.

"It was December (2014) when I got my first game against Zebre," he recalled.

"After that, I finally got into the team. That was another half-a-year wasted trying to break into the team.

"When I talked to Willie Ruane, that's what he said he liked most, that I put the head down and put in the hard work."

The simple fact that he was getting game time made the invitation to return to Dublin a non-runner.

"I had the option to go back to Leinster. But, for me, I liked what was going on in Connacht.

"It was the right decision because we won the League the next year."

But, there was always Kieran Marmion in the way, no matter how well he played.

"I knew I had to go the round-about to get there. I knew what my end-goal was and how to get there."

The leaving of Ulster cult hero Ruan Pienaar opened a door that Cooney has literally kicked open.

The former fine footballer at Beechwood in Ranelagh has taken his kicking skills from the round ball and applied them to the oval ball.

Amazingly, Cooney only start practising goal-kicking two years ago and was able to reel off 17-from-17 on day one at Connacht.

He is a walking and talking advertisement for the benefits of moving. Would he recommend it to everyone stuck where he was in limbo? "It all depends on the type of person," he stated.

Competitive

"If I'm playing for Ulster, I'm a competitive player, I will work hard. I will give 100pc.

"I don't think it matters that I'm not from Ulster whereas I care just as much about playing for Ulster as I did for Leinster.

"I had to go to Connacht. I bought into Connacht. I have a lot of family from there.

"For me, that was easy to do," he added. "But, coming up to Ulster, I knew I had an opportunity and I had to put my head down, see what would happen."

The notion Cooney has a job for rugby-life was met with swift rebuke.

He has lived through the roller-coaster ride that is being in one week and out the next.

"I wouldn't agree with that," he said.

"There's a lot of good depth there with Paul (Marshall), Cairnsy (Aaron Cairns), Johnny Stewart and Dave Shanahan.

"I keep saying sport is fickle. You can be the main man one week, but if you don't perform, it can change pretty quickly."

Cooney will return to Galway tonight where a familiar face will look to make an impact.

"I'm still sore from the last game, Bundee had been hitting me the whole time," he said.

"I'm looking forward to it. I like that competitive aspect to it."

Nothing will come too easy. He should know. He has had to do it the hard way.

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