Ireland scrum-half John Cooney is relishing the arrivals of new signings Alby Mathewson and Ian Madigan at Ulster and the strength they will add to the northern province’s push for silverware.
Former All Black scrum-half Mathewson made a massive contribution to the Munster cause, his initial signing in September 2018 as short-term injury cover for Conor Murray having been promptly extended by head coach Johann van Graan.
Such was the impact the 34-year-old had on and off the pitch that Munster were reluctant to part company with the New Zealander last November and though he will be a positional rival at Ulster, Cooney is looking forward to a similar contribution at Ravenhill having signed a one-year contract for 2020-21.
“I’m looking forward to having him. If we want to compete we’ve got to have as much strength and depth in every position,” Cooney said on Thursday as he spoke to the media as part of the Rugby Players Ireland Tackle Your Feelings mental health campaign.
“Luckily, I’ve got to learn from a lot of scrum-halves - Eoin Reddan, Isaac Boss - when I was at Leinster and quite young. It’s good to learn off other players and players who are slightly different to me and my approach, so I’m looking forward to picking his brain.
“I already follow him on Instagram because I know he’s in incredible shape and I want to see what he’s doing, so I can see what fitness or what gym he does.
“He seems to be an incredible professional who when I played (against) him (versus) Munster he played unbelievably when we lost away, so he’s a good player and will add a lot of strength to our squad.”
Fly-half Madigan will return to Ireland after spells with Bordeaux-Begles and Bristol Bears having left Leinster in 2016 and it not only increases Ulster’s options at 10, with Billy Burns and Bill Johnston also on the books, but reduces the chances of Cooney, a regular goalkicker, having to fill in there.
“Yeah, it's something I have been trying to do without any actual training. I think there was one game, I think it was La Rochelle, I just got thrown in. I had trained there, I think, for two days. I wouldn't mind if I was given three months to play 10, but it's hard when you haven't run and I forget where I am meant to go.
“Sometimes the 10 goes back to the edge and I'll forget that and start running into the ruck. I find it difficult to mix and match, so yeah, it will be nice not covering that. It's obviously good to have that option.
“I know Mads very well from coming up through Leinster with him. Also, having Alby will be great. It's more strength in depth, if we want to be a team competing to win trophies. I understand that the more players we have in certain positions, the better it is for the team. It's good to have a couple of more players.”
Cooney added that he and Madigan have been in regular contact.
“I have spoken to him a good few times. He was very good to me during the Six Nations.
“He messaged me a good few times. Just encouraging me to keep going at it. I would know him very well. He would send me a lot of positive messages, so I am looking forward to playing with him again.”