John Cooney believes Ulster have right mentality

John Cooney was part of the Leinster team that beat Ulster by a record winning margin in the 2012 Heineken Cup final at Twickenham.

By Ciaran Donaghy
Saturday, 11th June 2022, 7:00 am

In the decade since Ulster have made two domestic finals losing both to their Dublin rivals.

There was a feeling that on that day in May 2012 Ulster seemed happy just to be in the final as they succumbed to a 42-12 defeat.

Ulster are now two games away from ending their 16-year trophy drought starting with this afternoon’s URC semi-final against the Stormers in Cape Town. Ulster have the added incentive that victory will mean a final at Kingspan Stadium after the Bulls beat Leinster.

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After a spell in Connacht, Cooney arrived at Ulster in 2017 to fill Ruan Pienaar’s scrum half shirt.

Having spent the last five years in Belfast Cooney believes Ulster under Dan McFarland has developed a winning mentality.

“I definitely do (mentality change), people like Al O’Connor no matter what team you are playing he turns up every week and he really wants to hurt people so we have a bit of intensity like that in the pack now,” stated Cooney.

“Then we have the youth that are incredibly up for playing big games, but they also have the desire to win things.

“You have James Hume who is still 23/24 but they understand sport is fickle, we have been around like Bestie (Rory Best) who said ‘don’t let next year be the year let’s try and do it this year.’

“I think they have been around enough squads now to realise that we take this year is the year that we are going to try and win something.”

“I think what we have done in the last few years is always going to come to fruition eventually.

“I keep saying the learnings we have taken from games but we actually have.

“In previous years we probably have come in to review games and say we need to take our learnings and then the next week we probably go out and do similar things again.

“Take the Munster game we came out and put a performance like that after a really poor performance a couple of weeks ago, Leicester last year, we have really learnt the things we need to take from these games it is probably a reflection of the professionalism.

“We have young players that are incredibly professional, the Mike Lowrys, the James Humes that want to learn, that want to get better and they realise how to look after their body, how to look after their mind and I think that is probably the main difference we have had in the last couple of years.”

Ulster reached the European Challenge Cup semi-final last season and despite leading by 11 points at half-time came up short again.

“Last year we had a very good chance in the Leicester away game and we really didn’t finish that game off,” said Cooney.

“It is quite cliched but we did learn a lot from that because it was an incredibly dark week coming in to review the game.

“Coming into knockout rugby we have to realise how quickly it can change,

“In the first half we definitely looked like we were going to get the win and it changed.

“It is a big year for us and with the squad we do have it is definitely one of the best teams since I have been here so we would be confident that we can go on and win a trophy.”

Dan McFarland names an unchanged side from the one that defeated Munster quarter-final last week.

Ulster Rugby team to play DHL Stormers, United Rugby Championship semi-final, Saturday 11 June at DHL Stadium, 2pm kick-off:

(15-9): Stewart Moore, Rob Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney;

(1-8): Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Gareth Milasinovich, Kieran Treadwell, Matty Rea, Nathan Doak, Ian Madigan, Ben Moxham.