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John Cooney 'proud' to pen new long-term deal at Ulster Rugby

By Gareth Hanna

Ulster have moved to nail down their Player of the Season.

John Cooney arrived at Kingspan Stadium last summer with the huge boots of Ruan Pienaar to fill. Fast forward to the season's climax and he was finding room on his mantelpiece for the Ulster Player of the Year, the Supporters Club Player of the Year and the Rugby Writers' Player of the Year awards.

Little wonder, then, that the scrum-half has now been rewarded with a new four-year deal to remain at his adopted province until 2022.

"I've had an unbelievable time since I moved up here and I'm delighted to commit my long-term future to the club," he said. "The players, staff and supporters have all welcomed me with open arms and shown me incredible support.

"The character that everyone within the organisation displayed last year, in challenging circumstances, was really impressive and I'm immensely proud to represent Ulster Rugby.

"Bryn and Dan are creating a very ambitious young squad and I'm excited about what we can achieve as a group over the next few years, through a combination of hard work and talent."

One of the growing contingent of Leinster natives in the Ulster panel, Cooney's original contract was due to expire next summer. He joined Ulster after a three year spell at Connacht.

A reliable kicker, Cooney has now amassed 241 appearances in his 26 Ulster appearances so far, including all 15 in the narrow victory over Scarlets last weekend.

Ulster Operations Director Bryn Cunningham echoed the thoughts of supporters, delighted to secure Cooney's 'crucial' deal.

"The number of Man of the Match awards he won last season and the chants of 'Coo-ney' around the stadium says it all about how much he has contributed," he said.

"His energy and competitiveness, allied to his desire to continually improve, is helping us to drive standards day in, day out, and that is hugely important in terms of us striving for future success. We believe that John, like so many of our players, has his best years ahead of him.

"With the age profile of our squad being really exciting for future years, it will be up to players like John to provide us with leadership and experience in the coming seasons."

Speaking on this week's edition The Left Wing podcast for the Independent, Cooney talked up the prospects of one of Ulster's up-and-coming young players.

"There's a lad called Aaron Sexton, he's a winger and he is still in school and he is only 17," he said.

"He got called into train with us the other day - I'm pretty sure out of school! He played for the U20s the other day and scored a try, what seemed easy for him, against Leinster from 50m. He gassed everyone on the outside, stepped the fullback and nobody could get near him. I'm pretty sure he is going to be a big future star."

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