Full list of winners as Player of the Year John Cooney happy with life at Ulster Rugby
John Cooney was the big winner at the Heineken Ulster Rugby Awards last night with the scrum-half scooping three prizes at the end of a memorable debut season in Belfast.
The 28-year-old lifted gongs for the Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year, the Ulster Rugby Supporters' Club Player of the Year and Rugby Writers' Player of the Year.
The clean sweep of the top three prizes is just reward for his efforts over the last nine months when he has led the Guinness PRO14 standings in points, penalties and try assists.
His feats have been all the more remarkable given the pressure of replacing the irreplaceable in Ulster's No.9 jersey following Ruan Pienaar's forced departure last season.
"I definitely felt the pressure at the start," he said. "My first game I missed a few kicks but I got to fit in with everyone. If you're happy in your environment then I think it makes a big difference on the pitch.
"I've been happy with the season but sport is fickle so I know I need to do the same next season."
While matters haven't gone their way overall throughout the campaign, missing out on the play-offs for the second straight year, Cooney admits the side need to come out on the right side of the fine margins next year.
"We started well but then, you can blame whatever you want, we lost our coach, got a new coach and lost him as well so it was obviously going to be a bit disruptive. Not closing out a few games probably killed us, the Edinburgh game at home was probably the turning point," he said.
"If we'd scraped through that game, we'd probably be in the play-offs, and then away to Zebre and away to Dragons would be the others when you'd say we threw away points. Hopefully it's a learning curve."
Cooney wasn't the only multiple award winner of the evening, a black-tie dinner held at La Mon hotel, with Nick Timoney scooping both the Young Player of the Year and Academy Player of the Year awards after a season in which the Dublin native has impressed over the course of 19 appearances in Ulster's injury-hit back-row.
On a night too when Ulster said goodbye to a host of long-time stalwarts, the lengthy contribution made by Paul Marshall was recognised with the Heineken Ulster Rugby Personality of the Year prize.
The scrum-half will retire this summer as one of only six men to have made more than 200 outings for the province.
There was also a Special Recognition Award presented to Norman Pollock, who will retire at the end of the season after 18 years of volunteering as Ulster Rugby mascot Sparky.
Irish international scrum-half Larissa Muldoon was named as the Deloitte Women's Player of the Year, while Ulster U18 Girls' Player of the Year went to Bethany McDowell of Malone RFC.
Stars of the club game were feted too, with Armagh RFC's incredible season landing them the Kukri Sports Club of the Year award. It's been an unprecedented year of success at the Palace Grounds with the first XV earning promotion to Ulster Bank League Division 1B, winning the First Trust Senior Cup for the first time and retaining the SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership title.
Matthew Agnew of Ballymena and Conor McMenamin from Letterkenny RFC also picked up individual awards.
2018 HEINEKEN ULSTER RUGBY AWARD WINNERS & NOMINEES
(winners in bold)
Abbey Insurance Academy Player of the Year
CD Group Ulster A Player of the Year
SONI Community Rugby Champions
Patrick Baird (Malone RFC)
Clem Bassett (Ballynahinch RFC)
Noel Brown (Cooke RFC)
Liam Foley (Bangor RFC)
Kerr's Tyres Referee of the Year
Deloitte Women's Player of the Year
Beth Cregan (Cooke RFC)
Brittany Hogan (Cooke RFC)
Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union RFC)
Ulster U18 Girls Player of the Year
Bethany McDowell (Malone RFC)
Kelly McCormill (Monaghan RFC)
Lucinda Kinghan (Monaghan RFC)
Ulster Carpets Youth Player of the Year
Seif Eldin Abd El Gawad (Carrickfergus RFC)
Charlie Clarke (Rainey Old Boys RFC)
Conor McMenamin (Letterkenny RFC)
Danske Bank Schools' Player of the Year
John McKee (Campbell College)
Nathan Doak (Wallace HS)
Aaron Sexton (Bangor GS)
Dorrington B Faulkner Award (sponsored by Perennials RFC)
Ken Goodall Outstanding Club Player of the Year
Matthew Agnew (Ballymena RFC)
Andrew Morrison (Banbridge RFC)
Peter Cromie (Banbridge RFC)
Kukri Sports Club of the Year
City of Armagh RFC
Ulster Rugby Supporters Club Player of the Year
Rugby Writers' Player of the Year
BT Young Player of the Year
Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year
Special Recognition Award
Heineken Ulster Rugby Personality of the Year
Belfast Telegraph Digital