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'I kinda started laughing when the game got cancelled' - Six Nations pause further delays Cooney's first start


John Cooney: ‘All I can do is be in the right frame of mind and be physically ready to go when this is all clear’. Photo: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

John Cooney: ‘All I can do is be in the right frame of mind and be physically ready to go when this is all clear’. Photo: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

John Cooney: ‘All I can do is be in the right frame of mind and be physically ready to go when this is all clear’. Photo: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Of the players who had the most to gain from Ireland's postponed Six Nations game at home to Italy, one suspects that John Cooney was very much top of the list.

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but following the humbling defeat at Twickenham, Andy Farrell was likely to make changes for the visit of Italy before a daunting trip to Paris.

Cooney has been knocking on the door for some time, and since being left out of the World Cup squad, the scrum-half's form with Ulster added further weight to the suggestion that he should have been in line for his first Six Nations start.

Whether that long-awaited milestone occurred in Dublin or Paris, Cooney hinted that he was set to wear the number nine jersey in at least one of the two games. The 30-year-old has spent his entire career bouncing back from setbacks, so when Covid-19 brought the remainder of Ireland's Six Nations campaign to a grinding halt, he enjoyed an ironic chuckle to himself.

"I think I've learned over the years through all those ups and downs so, to be honest, I kinda started laughing when that France game got cancelled," Cooney says. "It's all you could really do. It was pretty typical. Then it (Covid-19) spiralled out of control.

"I understand that feeling sorry for myself, it's kind of how I've dealt with stuff over the last few years. Getting dropped over the summer for the World Cup, I was hugely disappointed, but I understand that it's not going to make me a better rugby player or even a better person day-to-day, so it is what it is. I can't do anything about it.

"All I can do is be in the right frame of mind and be physically ready to go when this is all clear and be as good as I was before that - that would kind of be my goal."

Other players may have taken such a devastating blow even harder, yet Cooney has used his World Cup omission to push his performances to an even higher level.

As well as he was playing with Ulster, where he has very much become a talisman, he still faces a tough task to unseat Conor Murray at international level.

Deep down, the Dubliner will feel that he was closer than ever to doing so back in March but his holistic outlook means that he is determined to use this break to his advantage.

Some days are tougher than others in that regard but the video which he just released as part of Rugby Players Ireland's 'Tackle Your Feelings' campaign, is indicative of a man who has worked tirelessly on his mental approach over the years.

"It was emotional," he admits.

"I sent it to my brother and sister, and my sister said she was close to crying. They were huge for me, my family. That's probably one of the things that kept me going the whole time - them.

"The same with my mum, she did a lot for me growing up and I sent it to her earlier and I'd say that made her pretty upset.

"She brought me everywhere to all my football games and my rugby games when I was young.

"Through all those injuries and stuff it was easy for me to be motivated thinking about the sacrifices they had made for me. That's a huge message.

"I think people get quite selfish when they are injured and things aren't going their way and they forget the sacrifices that other people have made for them. That made a big difference to me when I was injured.

"If you talked to me when I was 21, I probably wouldn't have had a clue about any of that, but dealing with all that adversity and injuries, I think you learn a lot about yourself.

"It's actually quite similar to being injured at the moment. For my last shoulder surgery, I think it was meant to be three to four months (out) and it ended up being nearly six months. It's a bit similar to that, when you've no certainty about when you're going to be back.

"So, it's kind of taking it day-by-day and enjoying that process of getting better."

For now, Cooney is doing as much as he can to keep his body ticking over, before Ulster and eventually Ireland return to full training.

The reopening of golf courses this week has also meant that he has had to adjust his own unique methods.

"I was kicking into two trees on a golf course for the first two weeks, going back to the olden days, I used to live beside a park and kick into trees," Cooney adds. "Sometimes the more I kick, the worse I get, so the first few weeks I just kicked once a week.

"I've actually gotten worse since I started practising more. When I've no game my concentration levels go in and out.

"I think it is the exact same with motivation levels for training. Even on Monday, it was the least motivation I have probably had in all the weeks.

"I realised I was feeling sorry for myself. I know I can sometimes sound a bit intense, but I have certain videos I watch on YouTube - a guy called Inky Johnson.

"At the end of the day, I had done five sets of fitness and I had done my gym. It shows a lot of it can be mental - how you perceive the situation can be a bit different and help you with those motivation levels."

Irish Independent