RUGBY: John Cooney fired up to make his mark at Ulster

Ireland's John Cooney breaks against Japan
Ireland's John Cooney breaks against Japan

John Cooney will arrive in Belfast next month with an even bigger spring in his step.

The Connacht scrumhalf will make the switch to Ulster weeks after making his Ireland debut.

Cooney replaced fellow Connacht scrumhalf, Kieran Marmion, during Saturday’s 35-18 second Test win over Japan in Tokyo.

He was the eighth and final new cap in the Ireland jersey during the three-week summer Tour which saw the Irish win twice against World Cup 2019 pool opponents and hosts Japan after starting out with a win over US Eagles.

And the hunger Cooney now has to feature in Ireland’s November Test series will be an added boost for Ulster boss Les Kiss.

The 27-year-old described making his debut in the stadium which will host the opening ceremony and first match of the Rugby World Cup in 2019 -quite possibly Japan v Ireland - as “a huge honour”.

“I am absolutely delighted, it was nice to get on and it was something I was working hard on over the last few weeks.

“My aim now is to get stuck in and hit the ground running with Ulster and try and get back for the November Tests with Ireland.

Cooney has been moved around from Province to Province.

He made his European Cup debut for Leinster ironically against Ulster in the 2012 European final at Twickenham.

A move to Connacht was followed by a catalogue of injuries which has hampered his progress.

“I think it’s three or four surgeries on my shoulder in the last few years, even last year in the PRO12 final, I dislocated my shoulder, and that was six months’ out.

“The main thing going through my head, doing fitness work, was to make this tour, to make the Ireland squad. It was nice to achieve it at the end of the season.

“I think at this stage now it’s more mental than physical, so I’ve really worked on my mental side, to be able to adapt to different circumstances and make sure I’m doing as much mental work as I can.

“I’m seeing someone in Galway to help me with that side of my game, I think it’s something I’ve developed through adversity, but pretty important now.”

Cooney will arrive in Belfast with a winners medal in both Europe and the Guinness PRO12 - something most Ulster players yearn for.

Cooney hopes to can add something to a squad which has not met it’s potential since reaching the European final in 2012 and PRO12 final a year later.

But he has big boots to fill as he comes in to replace South African international scrumhalf, Ruan Pienaar, forced to move to Montpellier when the IRFU would not give Ulster leave to extend his contract.

However, it has opened a door for Cooney who moved to Connacht three years ago and found his progress blocked by Marmion coming through ahead of him at international level.

“It was a no-brainer to make the move to Ulster for next season,” admitted Cooney.

Kieran is a great rugby player – he even came late and stuff so I just saw when Ruan was leaving that it was an opportunity before I left Connact.

“Ot was something I felt I could do again and I’m looking forward to signing for Ulster, getting to know the boys here on tour and playing with Paddy Jackson in this game, just a new experience

“It was a difficult thing to do but for me it was just an opportunity,” he added.

I know people didn’t want to influence my decision because I loved Connacht – I loved everything about it. My mum’s from Sligo, I had a background there but at the end of the say it’s head over heart.”