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New signing Cooney out to show he's real deal in Scarlets clash



Big impact: John Cooney has impressed for Ulster

Big impact: John Cooney has impressed for Ulster

Big impact: John Cooney has impressed for Ulster

The result in Treviso, though still a win, didn't exactly hit too many heights for those sporting Ulster's new away kit.

One player that did stand out, however, was new signing John Cooney, who deservedly left northern Italy with the man of the match award, an accolade often secured by his much-fabled predecessor in the No.9 shirt, Ruan Pienaar.

Not that Cooney is thinking that way of course. For the 27-year-old it was just another chance to show what he can do, something he knows will have to be bettered to get one over on the in-form Scarlets when the reigning champions visit the Kingspan Stadium this evening.

And with the fifth anniversary of Nevin Spence's death - along with his father Noel and brother Graham in a slurry tank tragedy on the family farm - coinciding with the game, there is added backdrop to the occasion.

Though Cooney was still on Leinster's books back in 2012, he had known Spence through their involvement in Ireland games played at under-age level and, as such, is well tuned in to the meaning of the date.

"I actually used to room with him a good bit at Ireland U20s as well as at 19s and 18s level, and it was heartbreaking when I found out about it. I remember exactly where I was (when I heard)," he said.

"It would be really nice to get that big day for him (with a victory) and, for me, it would be as big as for anyone else I think."

Reflecting on last week, Cooney said: "I had some good touches but I think there is a lot more to deliver.

"And as this (the Scarlets) is a big game, we'll all have to deliver again this week."

He's settled in fast, and Ulster seem to have found themselves a quality player finally getting a chance to show what he can do, with ball in hand and from the tee, after a frustrating time at Connacht and, before that, Leinster.

"That's huge," Cooney admitted of slotting straight in as a starting player.

"I think even in terms of training, each day you get to play with the (starting) team.

"It's good to be thrown in at the deep end and I've been happy with the first two games."

Cooney also lauds the impact fellow new arrival Dwayne Peel has had on his game with the assistant coach's special insight into scrum-half play after the Welshman's own notable playing career.

"He's improved parts of my game that make all the difference," he added.

And so to the game which comes with a must-win look to it in order to avoid the damaging prospect of losing at home and also to prevent leaders Scarlets from opening up an early gap on Ulster in the conference table.

Belfast Telegraph