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I always knew I'd realise my Six Nations dream but now Ireland must build momentum at Murrayfield: Cooney

Big stage: John Cooney’s late try was a proud moment for the Ulster ace but did little to dampen the pain of a defeat for Joe Schmidt’s men
Big stage: John Cooney’s late try was a proud moment for the Ulster ace but did little to dampen the pain of a defeat for Joe Schmidt’s men
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

The opening fixture of Ireland's 2019 is one that could be described as bittersweet for Ulster's John Cooney.

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Despite consistently good form since his move north from Connacht in 2017, he had to wait until only a few months shy of his 29th birthday before getting a first taste of the Six Nations.

And as was the case in three of his previous four caps, the Dublin native didn't get the amount of minutes he'd have hoped for - Joe Schmidt again sticking with his starter Conor Murray until the result was beyond any reasonable doubt - but did manage a quickfire try in his 240 or so seconds of action.

A brief moment for celebration on a day when Ireland lost their first Six Nations game in 23 months, their first at home since before Schmidt took over.

While his score in the 32-20 thumping by England saw hope of a losing bonus-point briefly flicker, in the end, it was a moment only in and of itself.

Still, after how hard he's worked to get here, it was one part of a day to savour all bar the result.

"It was a consolation try," he said. "It's more for my family and people who have been around for the last while when I was struggling with injury. It was nice for them but at the end of the day, it didn't really matter (in the context of the game).

"It meant a lot to my family, the Six Nations it's something we would have grown up watching. I was pretty emotional getting on the bus and going to the game.

"I was smiling during the anthems because during the tough times with injuries this was always something I'd envisaged and something I always knew that I would get to. For me, it was pretty emotional because, I'd set a big goal when I was injured and nowhere near it, but I always believed I could get there.

"It was the ticking of a box. I met a sports psychologist and she told me to train as if I was already an international so I had this mentality and I always held myself to those standards in training.

"Come the end, I didn't know if I was going to get on. It was nice to get those few minutes but there was no pressure on me. It's easy to come on in those sort of games, it's completely different coming on in a tight game or when you're starting.

"There's a hugely different mentality when you're losing. It's quite easy to look good at scrum-half when there's nothing to play for. At the end we could have gotten a bonus point and I think the tempo was quite good but you're just trying to fit into the team."

With injuries to Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath, Cooney's place in the 23 seems assured for now. It's felt like he hasn't often gotten the chances he's deserved in the international arena but believes he is more relaxed in the environment this time around.

"I did okay in November," he said. "I would have liked to do better, but hopefully, I can keep going from here.

"I've relaxed a bit more. As an opportunity, I probably overemphasised it a bit (back in the autumn).

"There were things that I would think of as my strengths that I didn't really get to show. I look forward to getting to use them in these games hopefully with a bit more time."

Ireland now prepare to face Scotland in what has become something of an alien position in recent years - looking to respond to a chastening defeat.

"It's a big one now to go to Murrayfield," Cooney noted. "They'll be on a high, they've two home games (having beaten Italy in Edinburgh on Saturday) so it's important for them but it couldn't be a bigger game for us.

"We'll come back in at Carton House and look at the things we've to work on.

"We need to go in and work hard, really understand what Scotland are going to bring and make sure we play our own game too.

"I think the emphasis will be making a good start. That momentum makes a huge difference."

Belfast Telegraph


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