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Cooney vows to give his all on return to the Sportsground

By Jonathan Bradley

Back in the Sportsground for the first time since he left Connacht, John Cooney is expecting few festive greetings from his old team-mates until after the final whistle of tonight's interpro (7.35pm kick-off).

It'll be the second time he's played against them since leaving Galway for Belfast, and is sure he'll get some similar treatment to what he faced in Ulster's home win back in October.

"I'm still sore from the last game, Bundee (Aki) had been hitting me the whole time," he joked. "I'm looking forward to it though, I like that competitive aspect to it."

Cooney earned man of the match honours when Ulster were last on their travels, against Harlequins two weeks ago, and there could have been no complaints had he picked up the gong for last Friday's win over the same opponents.

With Ulster his third province having come through at his native Leinster before playing for Connacht, the talented scrum-half can be seen as a poster child for the benefits of greater movement between the Irish sides.

With his former RDS teammates Jordi Murphy and Marty Moore due in Ulster colours next year too, Cooney believes the issue is being somewhat overplayed in media circles.

"It all depends on the type of person," he said. "If I'm playing for Ulster, I will work hard. I will give 100%.

"I don't think it matters that I'm not from Ulster as I care just as much about playing for Ulster as I did for Leinster.

"I had to go to Connacht. I bought into Connacht. I have a lot of family from there. For me, that was easy.

"But, coming up to Ulster, I knew I had an opportunity and I had to put my head down and see what would happen.

"I've been working hard for a long time and I feel like it's what I have deserved and I hadn't gotten it yet. It gives me that desire in the morning to go in and work hard every single day."

Indeed, perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to Cooney for his performances this year is that the name Ruan Pienaar, the beloved Springbok who he replaced, has not been mentioned nearly as much as would have been thought.

"I can't really comment on that," he said. "He's been the superstar there for the last couple of years. I can only do what I can do really."

And that's working out just fine for Ulster.

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