Livewire Cooney has no regrets over switch from east to west
Sick of kicking his heels and lifting weights, John Cooney took the decision last summer to move from east to west and the Dubliner hasn't looked back.
The Heineken Cup-winning scrum-half got caught in limbo in 2013/'14, acting as Leinster's 24th man for most of the campaign. His province needed him as cover, but with the men he describes as "Energiser bunnies", Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss, rarely injured, he rarely played.
With both men in front of him well into their 30s, there was a temptation to wait it out but the former Gonzaga student knew he would stagnate if he didn't get games, so when Connacht called he said yes.
"Basically, Matt O'Connor didn't want me getting injured because he needed the cover," the 24-year-old scrum-half said. "Luke McGrath was playing AIL, so that sets you back too, I was third choice, so that effectively made me fourth choice. It became very frustrating.
"In a position like scrum-half, the more you play the benefit you get from it is huge. You don't really need to lift weights or get fitter, my goal this year was to just play as much as I could, so I have played Leinster League with Terenure in my first game back, then I played AIL, nearly all the 'A' games for Connacht and basically any game where I had a chance to play I asked if I could play. My biggest goal this season was to play as much rugby as I possibly could, because last year I wasted so many weekends doing weights or fitness.
"Playing just makes you way sharper, it affects your decision-making - when you're working in the team environment your decision-making improves a lot. In terms of confidence as well, you can't get confidence in the gym all week, so that is huge.
"I've played more than 20 games this season and last year in all competitions between Leinster, the 'A's and the AIL I played nine games. That includes substitute appearances, which is pretty poor."
Cooney's mother hails from Sligo and he has felt at home out west since making the move to an environment in which he has been welcomed warmly. His move, along with Quinn Roux, on a season-long loan was an important one for the IRFU who want to see more players spread their wings in order to create depth for Joe Schmidt and the fact that both men have committed to the cause for next season speaks volumes for their leap of faith.
It hasn't been easy for Cooney who stayed at Leinster to rehabilitate his injured shoulder at the start of the campaign, allowing Ian Porter steal a march but he has worked his way into a position to challenge Kieran Marmion for the No 9 shirt.
The incumbent gets the nod today, but Cooney's two tries last weekend in Zebre helped open the door for their tilt at Europe.
"I knew once I got an opportunity I could prove myself. Now I've had a few starts, I'm getting more comfortable," he said. "Recently, the whole Connacht environment wrote down what we thought of the club and the first thing that I wrote down was the people.
"Everyone's so humble, down to earth. I think that's such a special thing they have up here. Not that Leinster don't have that, but I just felt so welcomed when I first came, I enjoyed it so much. They're a hard-working club. They've improved every year, this could be the best ever season."
That will only be the case if they can beat top dogs Ospreys this afternoon in Galway, but regardless of the result Cooney is sure he made the right call. Ruaidhri O'Connor
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