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Jonathan Bradley of Belfast Telegraph (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

John Cooney views Ireland bench as an opportunity rather than a knock and that should be no surprise

Jonathan Bradley


Positive attitude: John Cooney remains focused on shining for Ireland

Positive attitude: John Cooney remains focused on shining for Ireland

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Positive attitude: John Cooney remains focused on shining for Ireland

Given how he has responded to various setbacks throughout his career to stand today as arguably the best-performing scrum-half in Europe, it should come as no surprise to see John Cooney viewing the No.21 jersey he will again wear against Wales as an opportunity rather than a knock.

Named for the second week in succession as a replacement by Andy Farrell yesterday, Ulster ace Cooney has already turned his attentions towards making the best of it after two-time British and Irish Lion Conor Murray was retained.

Despite their protestations to the contrary, Monday's press conference with himself and Murray sat side by side must have felt somewhat odd for two players vying for the same position.

The pair have found themselves occupying the same newspaper headlines and Twitter debates practically from the moment Murray returned to provincial colours following the World Cup. But sat behind the same tiny table at the start of this week, Cooney took the opportunity to quell the debate rather than fan the flames, saying all either man cared about was the betterment of Ireland's Six Nations prospects.

Cooney laughed about the last time these two were truly competing for the same jersey, when he was dropped for firing a pass over the head of Ian Madigan in an Irish under-age game.

Only two years later, Murray was made starter for the senior side, while in the intervening years Cooney has had to overcome the logjam at his native province, multiple shoulder surgeries and, most recently, his omission from Joe Schmidt's World Cup panel before a warm-up game had even been played.

It is fair to consider the 29-year-old a late bloomer, finally excelling after getting a prolonged run of games following the move north in 2017.

A big part of his delayed success can be attributed to his mental approach - his belief that you can't control what happens to you, but you can control your reaction.

With such a groundswell of support, it would be easy to paint Murray's continued presence in the side as a snub to his eye-catching displays, yet the man himself takes a different approach.

Any debate, and certainly any needle, is a construction for the public, for the media and for anyone not a part of the famous bubble, nor conducive to the attitude that has brought Cooney to this point.

Instead, those 20 minutes in the 19-12 victory over Scotland last Saturday, banked when the game was hanging in the balance, can be seen as the most meaningful of the Dubliner's Test career.

All too often when previously given a chance from the bench, his time would come when the game was already gone. That fact, coupled with injuries to other nines, left him feeling happy for the scraps.

"Last year, I probably didn't put myself under more pressure to try and get more game time," he said.

"I was kind of happy just to come on and get whatever because I didn't have too many caps at the time.

"This year, I'm going to keep going back to what I said in the summer.

"I'm going to be happy in myself, happy in my environment and that's generally going to get me to play my best.

"I'm here to try to do that, play my best, whether it is 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes off the bench or whether it's starting. It doesn't really matter."

No matter how much it does to the rest of us.

Belfast Telegraph