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Cooney: My World Cup heartache

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'I didn't know it was coming... my first reaction was to scream' - John Cooney on his Ireland axe

John Cooney has lifted the lid on what it was like to be one of the five players so far cut from Joe Schmidt’s training squad for the World Cup.

Ireland came into August working with 45 players, a figure that Schmidt must reduce to 31 by World Rugby’s September 8 deadline day for registering squads for the tournament finals in Japan.

Two were cut on August 5, Ultan Dillane and Rory Scannell being told their services were no longer needed, and the bad news then arrived for Cooney on August 11, the day after the warm-up win over Italy that he did not play in. 

It was only three days later, on August 14, that the IRFU publicly confirmed Cooney, Finlay Bealham and Mike Haley would not be travelling to Portugal for the warm-weather camp and the disappointment has festered with the 29-year-old scrum-half who has eight caps, four coming off the bench in the 2019 Six Nations.    

Speaking on the Coffee with Cave series on The Rugby Pod’s Patreon site, Cooney, who would have felt his ability to play both half-back positions would have earned him at least one Test match audition this month to show his worth, told Darren Cave: “To be honest I didn’t know it was coming. 

“I was actually watching the Gaelic football, the semi-final Tyrone were playing, and my phone was actually on silent. I went to look at my phone about 10 minutes after the game and saw I had a missed called from Joe, so straight away my first reaction was to scream. 

“I knew well I was going to be cut at that stage. It was a bit of a surprise because that week I had done fitness and gym all week because I wasn’t playing against Italy. In my head the week before I thought I could be dropped. 

“I wasn’t so then I thought I might be playing England, so I kind of kept the head down and got to work that week. That way it was kind of pretty upsetting that I didn’t get to play a game but yeah, I think I knew well once I saw the phone call off him that was it. 

Ireland depth chart

Ireland’s RWC training squad depth chart

“I rang him back and he must have been on the phone to someone else so I had to wait about 15, 20 minutes for him to call me back. It was a bit of a limbo at that stage. Yeah, as you probably know yourself, once you get a phone call out of the blue you kind of know something is up.”

Having subbed for Conor Murray for the majority of this year’s Six Nations and scored a try against England following on from a first Test start last November versus the USA, Cooney felt he was in with a credible shot of challenging to go to the World Cup.

However, his hopes were dashed without any game time following a tough pre-season training with Ireland. “Personally I would have liked to have played a lot more and there has now been two Italy games that I have been involved which I would have liked to have least gotten a start or at least off the bench the last day. 

“That is what hurt me the most, that I didn’t even get a chance. I don’t see why I didn’t even get a few minutes to come on even against Italy. I’m not sure why that is. Also, even against the USA I got a start and played average enough. 

“But you know that type of year where you are carrying a few little niggles and stuff, I remember my AC was at me, little hindrances that sometimes if you get one soft game you don’t get to make up for it. 

“Since then I thought I did quite well in the Six Nations, got to play four out of the five games. The year before my goal was to play in one of the games and I didn’t so to get four out of five the year after was huge for me.

“I thought I did quite well when I came on and obviously would have liked a bit longer, but I haven’t actually had a chance since then. In one way I’m pretty happy with how I went when I got my opportunity but then it doesn’t really do much for you when you don’t get another go.”

WATCH: The RugbyPass stadium guide to Yokohama where Ireland will kick off their World Cup campaign against Scotland on September 22 

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'I didn't know it was coming... my first reaction was to scream' - John Cooney on his Ireland axe