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New And Exciting Chapter Begins For Cooney At Ulster

New And Exciting Chapter Begins For Cooney At Ulster

One of Ulster’s summer recruits, scrum half John Cooney, is looking forward to the next chapter in his career, even if it means being tasked with following in the footsteps of a departing star.

Speaking at the launch of Ulster’s new home and away kits, John Cooney said he is well aware of the challenge ahead as he attempts to create his own legacy in the Ulster number 9 jersey, following the departure of fans’ favourite Ruan Pienaar at the end of last season.

“It’s a big deal with him (Pienaar) leaving but I prefer coming in where a big player has been before because I love a challenge. I’d rather fill big boots than small ones. It’s a big challenge but that’s what I’m here for,” said the Dublin native.

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While many people around the province were still coming to terms with the disappointment of losing Pienaar, Cooney admits his thoughts very quickly turned to a potential opportunity for him.

“I remember hearing about him on the radio that he’d have to leave and just thought straight away that there’d be an opportunity with me being out of contract at the end of the year. I text my agent straight away thinking it would be great for me. I was hoping they’d get on to me about it and a few weeks later they did. It was all pretty straightforward.”

Having joined Connacht from Leinster in 2014, Cooney (pictured above with Schalk van der Merwe and Jean Deysel) had to battle back from injury and deal with stiff competition from Ireland international Kieran Marmion in order to establish himself as a regular starter for the westerners.

“When I went to Connacht, Kieran was going well and I had three shoulder surgeries which set me back. The games were sometimes split between us but I want to start the big games. Since then, I’ve had seven or eight months injury-free and I want to press on. For me, the main thing is getting games under my belt.”

A PRO12 title winner with Connacht in 2015/16, and a member of the Leinster squads that won two league titles as well as the Heineken Cup and the Challenge Cup, the 27-year-old was rewarded for his recent form with a first Ireland cap during the summer tour of USA and Japan, where his new Ulster team-mates, Jacob Stockdale and Kieran Treadwell, also made their international bows.

Though there is a fresh look to the coaching set-up at Ulster, Cooney is more familiar than most with the new personnel having previously worked with director of rugby Les Kiss in national camps, while Ulster’s new head coach Jono Gibbes and scrum coach Aaron Dundon were a former coach and team-mate respectively at Leinster.

Cooney is also relishing the chance to work with Ulster’s recently-arrived assistant coach Dwayne Peel, who lined out at scrum half for his native Wales on 76 occasions, as well as touring New Zealand with the British & Irish Lions in 2005.

“It’s been amazing working with Dwayne and seeing what I can add. It’s brilliant to have a backs coach who knows so much about scrum half.”

With pre-season matches at home to Wasps and away to Northampton Saints ahead of the GUINNESS PRO14 opener versus South African newcomers, the Toyota Cheetahs, Cooney is looking forward to getting out on the pitch and putting the hard work of pre-season into practice.

He added: “It’s all new maps, it’s all new plays. To bed that in before the first game is important, see what works and get used to things will make a big difference. You can know all the stuff on paper and in training, but it’s when you do it on the pitch, that’s when it becomes second nature. It makes a big difference doing them on the field.”