Cooney: Ulster turbulence has been difficult to deal with this season. Bryan Keane/INPHO
John Cooney

'A couple of weeks back I sat down and said, ‘This is going to be the next chapter of my career''

John Cooney starts at scrum-half for Ulster’s Challenge Cup quarter-final trip to Clermont Auvergne this afternoon.

JOHN COONEY HAS revealed that he has struggled with the turbulence which has enveloped Ulster this season.

The recently turned 34-year-old has been through tough times at the province before with coaches Les Kiss and Jono Gibbes departing in Cooney’s first season after his switch from Connacht, and CEO Shane Logan also exiting in what was a difficult campaign on the field as well.

This time, though, the issues engulfing Ulster – including the stepping down of head coach Dan McFarland and CEO Jonny Petrie, along with marquee signing Steven Kitshoff impending exit at season’s end – have been more challenging for Ulster’s frontline scrum half and goalkicker.

“I’ve found this season more difficult than the first season probably because I think I was naïve to all of it (back in 2017-18),” said Cooney ahead of today’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final at Clermont Auvergne.

 “(Then) I came in as a new player and wanted to show what I could do for the club and just work hard and kept my head down.

“This season to come from where we had been a couple of years ago and to see us not performing, I found a little bit difficult in terms of that, and being in and out of the team,  and not being able to influence the team.

And then Father Time catching up a little bit, stuff like that in the back of my head, questioning ‘Are you still as good as you were?’

“I just found it was getting on top of me throughout the season,” the 11-times capped Ireland player disclosed.

But with interim head coach Richie Murphy coming in following McFarland’s early departure in February, Cooney has reconnected with someone he has known since his early days in the Leinster Academy which, in turn, has helped him hit the reset button.

“Now I’ve turned a (new) leaf,” he said, adding, “it’s all between the top two inches of your head.”

Cooney continued: “A couple of weeks back I sat down and said, ‘This is going to be the next chapter of my career and (I must) make sure I come out the other side and play well until the end of the season.’

“We’ve a chance to win stuff and a chance to really push on this team so there are good things out of the tough times and in my career, I’ve just always been able to bounce back.”

Michael Sadlier
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