WHEN Garryowen prop JP Cooney started a new job in a quality control laboratory in Limerick a few short weeks ago, he could hardly have envisaged running out in Connacht’s colours in their glamour pre-season friendly with English giants Harlequins this Saturday.
But the highly rated Cooney has enjoyed a whirlwind couple of weeks, recently signing a development contract with Heineken Cup side Connacht.
The talented 22-year-old, who featured for Eric Elwood’s side in their eye-catching victory over Exeter last weekend, will continue to play his club rugby with Garryowen when he is free to do so.
Cooney, who is set to graduate as a science teacher from UL later this month, is thrilled to have the chance to live the life of a professional rugby player.
It is the kind of opportunity he has worked hard for during his time playing rugby.
“To be honest, this is the chance I wanted all my life since I was younger,” JP Cooney enthused.
“I am really happy, over the moon that it has worked out for me at this moment in time.
“I had started a job here in Limerick in Vistakon in the quality control lab. I hadn’t heard anything much over the summer in terms of moving on with rugby. I was just presuming I would be playing with Garryowen.
“So about three weeks into the pre-season, the Garryowen coaches Tom Tierney and Paul Neville were saying there may be an opportunity for me at Connacht.
“But I didn’t want to get my hopes up until I heard from Connacht themselves. Then when I did hear, I was thrilled to get a chance like that.
“I am trying to grasp the idea of being a full-time pro, idea that I don’t have to sleep all day to be able to go out and do a night shift. I do my training, go the gym and that is it. I don’t have to do anything else.”
Cooney was previously involved in the Munster Academy, but explained that he was determined to have a career outside of rugby to fall back on.
Thurles man Cooney explained: “I played U-18, U-19 and U-20s with Munster. I was in the Academy for a year or two. But at the time, while rugby is a very big part of my life, it would have been very important for me to get my education first. Because of that, you have to have great commitment to be playing in a Munster Academy, things didn’t really work out for me at that time.
“But I still kept playing and training away with Garryowen. I was really happy when the opportunity with Connacht presented itself just after I have finished college. Now I have my degree and now I know if anything every happened to me - touch wood - I have something to fall back on.”
While he was first introduced to rugby at Thurles RFC, Cooney’s career flourished at Garryowen. He threw in his lot with the ‘light blues’ after arriving in Limerick to attend UL.
Cooney said: “Even the training sessions at Garryowen when I went there first - never mind the matches - I learned an awful lot in them. I learned a lot about scrummaging because they had some very good props out there. And the better your opposition is the more you are going to pick up, the more you will learn with them.
“Having lost the Munster Senior Cup final the season before last, it was great to get there again last season and win it.
“And to go from that to add the Bateman All-Ireland Senior Cup was great.”