Belfast Telegraph

Cooney is ready for semi-final battle to be family affair

John Cooney.
John Cooney.
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

When Jacob Stockdale phoned John Cooney pretending to be Ulster CEO Jonny Petrie for a gag last week, the province's scrum-half was quick to pick up on a Scottish brogue that wasn't quite right.

While the pair's former team-mate Tommy Bowe wasn't quite so fortunate, Cooney would have little excuse had he failed to pick up on the deception, not with half of his family hailing from Glasgow, the same city that Ulster will visit this week for the small matter of a Guinness PRO14 semi-final.

Cooney's father, an acclaimed former Religious Affairs correspondent for both the Irish Times and the Irish Independent, is, despite the distinct Dublin hue to his CV, a proud Scotsman.

The move to Ireland came only after he'd met Cooney's Sligo-born mother when the pair were working in Brussels during the 1980s.

Friday's game (7.35pm kick-off) will therefore provide the opportunity for a second family reunion in quick succession after a hefty percentage of the clan were on hand to see the 29-year-old play his part in Ireland's victory at Murrayfield earlier this year.

"It's big for my dad," admitted Cooney in between politely adhering to every selfie request that came his way as the guest of honour at Portadown RFC's minis' prize-giving.

"I don't think he knows yet but my sister has booked him a flight to go over and he'll be delighted.

"I never got to meet my grandmother but my granddad, whenever we were little we would go over and visit him every summer, the odd Christmas and Easter too, so I know the city well. It's a lot nicer now than it was then. I just remember all the high-rise buildings but now it's lovely, all around the west end."

With the final to be played at Celtic Park, and three Irish teams and one Scottish in the last four, there'll be plenty of rugby players believing they're only 80 minutes from paradise this weekend.

Cooney's trips to Glasgow involved a visit to Parkhead just once - that for Tom Boyd's 2001 testimonial against a Manchester United side containing Beckham, Giggs and Scholes et al, the tickets secured thanks to a work connection of his uncle - with the soccer-mad youngster having grown up a Liverpool fan who idolised Michael Owen.

"Again, it would mean a lot to my dad," said Cooney of the prospect of running out at the famous old ground next weekend.

"I'm sure he would have preferred me to be playing with the other shaped ball but it was rugby that became my passion."

As such, of far greater importance to Cooney is securing Ulster's place in a first final since 2013. While recent history will be with the hosts, the influential nine won't be putting too much stock in the most recent meeting when Glasgow ran out 30-7 winners a month ago.

"We've performed in the big games," he said of his side, who hope to have both Stockdale and Louis Ludik back for the game.

"Last time it was probably a bit of a hangover from the week before against Leinster in Europe. Personally, I was probably still pretty sore. It's been a big year for us but Dan (McFarland) has already said that we don't want to be a team that is satisfied with a good season.

"Even if it's just subconsciously, we need to make sure that we go out there and we're not just content with getting there but that we put in a big performance."

John Cooney was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph as a Shelbourne Motors Brand Ambassador.

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