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Cooney proud of overcoming struggles and potholes to make international mark

The scrum-half had a nightmare journey to meet with Ulster before his switch from Connacht.

Cooney at training in Carton House this week.
Cooney at training in Carton House this week.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

JOHN  COONEY KNEW that taking over at scrum-half in Ulster in the post-Ruan Pienaar era wasn’t going to be easy.

He might not have foretold just how difficult the trip to even discuss the switch was going to be, though.

Travelling to Belfast for a meeting with the northern province’s decision-makers ahead of his 2017 move from Connacht, Cooney’s progress hit something of a pothole along the way.

“I got a flat tyre on my drive up to see them and I was like four hours late,” he said with the humour of hindsight in Carton House this week.

Tyre trouble is an outright sickener at the best of times. On a long journey to a potentially pivotal meeting, Cooney would have been well within his rights to turn the air inside his car a dark shade of blue while thumping the leather off the interior.

John Cooney Cooney chatting with reporters this week in Carton House. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The positive horizons seemed to be weighted against added misfortune as he spotted a the glow of a petrol station ahead.

“I was able to get there and then went to change, well I didn’t know how to change the tyre, but when I went to change it the lock-nut broke. So I couldn’t even change the tyre.”

Stuck in a tight spot with a punctured tyre stuck on his car, he tried to get by with a little help from a friend. Fortunately, for Ulster as well as the then 26-year-old, Aonghus Cody answered and dropped what he was doing to rescue Cooney and ferry him the rest of the way.

My best friend picked me up and drove me to Belfast so I could meet Les. So I was four hours later but I think he was pretty happy that I still got there… the next day they offered me a contract so I was thinking ‘this worked out well’.”

Better late than never is easily applied to Cooney’s international career too. He made his Test debut later that year before joining Ulster for the start of the 2017/18 season.

He has had to bide his time to reach double figures in international match minutes, but Kieran Marmion’s misfortune has been his gain this season. And this Sunday will see Cooney win his seventh cap in Rome – a fifth run-out in green this season after featuring against Italy, USA, England and Scotland.

He has worked for every last minute with Ireland, the reward for taking on the unenviable task of replacing a beloved club legend and Springbok, and doing so with aplomb.

“I think there was pressure, but I don’t think it really fazed me. I saw it as a huge opportunity for me,” says Cooney.

John Cooney celebrates at the final whistle after kicking the winning penalty Cooney celebrates a late winner early this season. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

He chalks his calmness in the limelight down to the laws of attraction – the theory that putting out positive thoughts bring about positive experiences, and vice-versa.

“I was getting pretty into that at the time so I knew if I put myself under pressure and put it out there that this is what I wanted to fulfill, this is what I wanted to do, I knew it would come back to me.

“I thought: ‘this pressure is fine, I need to step up and do what I need to do’. 

“I just found all season things kept coming back my way, it might seem like a fad but it worked for me.”

His heightened interest in psychological approaches dates back to a spate of shoulder injuries, and three surgeries to correct them, while at Connacht. He suffered a dislocation on a day that should have been a crowning glory against his native province, but within minutes of replacing Kieran Marmion in the 2016 Pro12 final, he was carrying a limp limb off again.

Caolin Blade, Kieran Marmion and John Cooney Caolin Blade, Kieran Marmion and John Cooney with the Pro12 trophy in Murrayfield. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Looking back now it was probably one of the best things that happened to me,” says the scrum-half.

“It was a bit of both, it was just in terms of starting to understand my brain a bit better and being happy in my environment.

It helped a lot, that ‘train as if’ mentality really made a big difference, every day when I was going in and holding myself to those standards of an international when I was nowhere near that. It made a big difference.”

“One of my big work-ons when I was younger was that mentality, it was something I really developed. Working on training my brain, stuff like that.

“It is probably what I am proudest of in my career; that when I was third, fourth choice or whatever I still saw myself being able to get to this position.

“When I look back, I’m most proud of that: when I was struggling…”

Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look ahead to Ireland’s Six Nations meeting with Italy and discuss the week’s biggest stories in the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Sean Farrell

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