Ulster’s John Cooney won’t be swept up in hype despite latest European victory over Harelquins

John Cooney admits he spends a lot of time in training with a football, but given his current form and some deft footwork with the rugby ball it is certainly paying dividends.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 16th December 2019, 12:01 am
Updated Monday, 16th December 2019, 4:36 pm
Ulster's John Cooney celebrates scoring a try
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Ulster's John Cooney celebrates scoring a try .

A big Liverpool supporter, the Ulster scrum half openly admits to being a huge fan of Michael Owen.

There is no rugby memorabilia hanging in the house, instead pride of place goes to a signed jersey of the Liverpool legend.

Head coach Dan McFarland may have a little frown on his face when Cooney produces the football, however if he continues to deliver the masterclass displays he has particularly in the European Champions Cup, the Ulster boss will give him a by-ball.

Cooney is currently on a great run in Europe producing consistent brilliant displays and helping the Ulstermen to top spot in their pool as they aim to make back-to-back quarter finals in the Heineken Champions Cup.

He scored two tries in the Friday night win over Harlequins as Ulster made if four from four in Pool Three with a 34-10 bonus point success at Twickenham Stoop, a result which leaves Ulster needing three points from their remaining two games to secure a place at the top table once again.

Cooney’s try right at the end of the first half set Ulster on their way to a convincing win in the end but it was his piece of brilliant football skill in the second half which left everyone’s mouths open.

Taking an offload, he looked as if he had dropped the ball, but it was intentional, he put his foot to it and followed the grubber kick through to grab his second try.

McFarland was in awe at the move and said afterwards: “There was a great moment there and people will look at it, we have spent five minutes trying to work out how he managed to grubber the ball through off that ruck and we cannot actually work out how he did it. I asked him afterwards and he doesn’t know how he did it!”

That piece of individual brilliance stood out, but before that and just after the break, Cooney produced a try saving tackle, and McFarland was keen to acknowledge that as well.

“The bit that I loved was him chasing back to tackle Ross Chisholm. That was a pretty crucial stage in the game and for John to show us the pace to be able to do that but also the energy is fantastic – it is all symptomatic of what all the guys in the team would do.”

His form since the start of the season has Cooney on most Irish fans’ lips as one who should be included in Andy Farrell’s Six Nations squad at the very least, following the disappointment of being cut by Joe Schmidt’s extended panel ahead of the World Cup in Japan.

Cooney, though, is not getting carried away by the hype.

“I’ve never been the type to get hype, it’s always been hard work. I’m very responsive to other athletes and Kobe Bryant talks about mental toughness being an even keel, never too high, never too low,” said Cooney.

“For me, at the low points, it was trying to never be too low and stay on top of that. I think I backed it up this week because I didn’t want things to go to my head, I wanted to go out and perform as I knew that I could so that’s what I want to do each week.”

His two tries plus nine points with the boot against Quins earned him another man of the match award, but five tries in five games is a pretty impressive return and that is a direct result of the work he put in over the summer.

Cooney explained: “Peely (Dayne Peel) said he wanted more from us in terms of tries, rather than just support lines, to have more of a crack ourselves. That got into my head and in the summer I worked on that and wanted to try to get more tries.

“It’s going back to training in the week and seeing different pictures.”

As for himself, Cooney is just happy to be delivering as part of the group.

“I am enjoying it. I’m obviously making a lot of mistakes as well. A scrum half touches the ball alot and it ended up well in the end (against Quins last week and this).”