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Ulster have learned from humbling lesson, says Cooney

By Michael Sadlier

John Cooney is in surprisingly chirpy form, which is no mean feat after being part of last Saturday's record defeat down in Munster while also managing to ship another head cut requiring further stitching work.

By his reckoning he now has about 14 stitches in his scalp following the damage done at the Cheetahs and then the accidental collision with Rory Scannell's knee just over 30 minutes in as the Thomond Park nightmare was beginning to unfold.

But, more importantly, he is still chewing over the 64-7 walloping and trying give it context before providing some useful memories of playing against his former province Connacht, who happen to be up on Friday evening at Kingspan Stadium.

"I've been on the end of (heavy defeats) when at Connacht and Leinster and it happens from time to time," says the 28-year old.

"I remember my first cap for Leinster against the Ospreys when we got spanked by about 40 points. I was off by half-time and a lot of the more experienced lads just didn't front up.

"The only thing you can do is learn from it, and if you don't, that's when you really struggle."

And then turning to the more immediate situation he says: "We were pretty annoyed on Monday and, like anything, you've got to take the learnings.

"Defensively we've learnt a lot," he adds, which is just as well as Ulster also leaked a record of nine tries over the course of the Thomond Park carnage.

"Certainly as individuals we've learnt a lot in terms of making reads and things like that, which is important for some of the more experienced lads to make sure we're not doing anything stupid.

"I think Jared (Payne) was pulling out his hair," he adds of the defence coach's experience of watching last Saturday's affair.

So now it's about bouncing back, and with some venom too, a positive outcome needed not only to steady the Guinness PRO14 ship but also take towards Europe's opening round just over a week away when Ulster host Leicester Tigers.

Though Connacht have their own unpleasant stat lingering around - they haven't won in Belfast since 1960 - this Irish derby is a nailed-on must-win for Dan McFarland's squad.

Of course, Cooney knows the Connacht lads well having left there to join Ulster in the summer of 2017 and he also knows what's coming after the most recent occasion when the sides met - which was last December in Galway - and, yes, that didn't end well for the visitors.

"It should be enjoyable," the two-time capped Ireland international says with a glint in his eye.

"I remember last year a few lads were hitting me late and talking to me during the game.

"It (the outcome, which was 44-16 to Connacht) was up there with the Munster result.

"I think they were celebrating when Finlay (Bealham) hit me late and got away with it, and I'd say I'd be getting a few of them again.

"It was one of the sorest I was after a game, last year I remember Bundee (Aki) hit me a good few times too."

This time Cooney will be keeping the scrum cap on for the whole game, which is just as well with two lacerations already now decorating his scalp.

He looks certain to play tomorrow - and will badly want to put on a better show for Joe Schmidt, particularly if up against Ireland rival Kieran Marmion, with the battle on between the two and Luke McGrath to start in November with Conor Murray out - and this time will only remove his head protection during breaks in the game to prevent getting too hot.

"I don't have any doubt that this week we'll man up," he insists of hosting Connacht.

"But talk is cheap and we'll see how it goes."

Belfast Telegraph

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