John Cooney: Mental approach key to success for in-form Ulster scrum-half
Ulster scrum-half John Cooney says mental preparation has been key to his outstanding performances for the Irish province this season.
Cooney has scored seven tries so far, including vital touchdowns in all four of Ulster's Champions Cup pool games.
"In years gone by I have probably over-emphasised the physical and been obsessed with weight and the way I train," said the 29-year-old.
"I learned I can get a lot more by focusing on the mental side of things."
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'Right mix of physical and mental'
Cooney's accuracy with the boot has been supplemented by a series of moments of individual brilliance and his rich vein of form has seen him tipped to challenge Conor Murray for the Ireland number nine shirt for the Six Nations.
"I'm just really enjoying myself. I think I've just had the right mix of physical and mental at the moment," Cooney told BBC Radio Ulster's Sportsound Extra Time programme.
"A lot of players don't work on the mental side of the game as much as the physical. I've just learned to relax a little bit more.
"I've been reading books and learning about aspects of the game that I know I can bring into my game and the psychology behind it.
"I had a sore foot the other week and I couldn't kick during the week. If I kicked too much I knew it would swell up but I wanted to do proper preparation.
"Instead I practiced the mental aspect for 40 minutes - just going through what I can do an basically practicing kicks by not practicing kicks, something I have never done in the past. When I got to the game it was a little bit easier."
Clermont stadium 'an incredible place to play'
The former Connacht scrum-half is already looking forward to Ulster's visit to Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin in January for an encounter with Clermont Auvergne which should decide who will finish top of European Champions Cup Pool 3 and perhaps secure a home quarter-final tie.
"I have never played there but most people say it's probably the best away stadium you can play in in terms of the European Cup because of the supporters and how loud it is. It will be an incredible place to play," enthused Cooney.
"Also with the quality of their scrum-halves they have - Greig Laidlaw and Morgan Parra. Parra has been one of the best scrum-halves in Europe over the last decade and I'd like to play against him.
"Clermont didn't really turn up at Kingspan in the wet, cold weather but over there they will be a different proposition.
"They have steamrollered teams at home, have secured bonus points in all their games so it's going to be a big game for us.
"If we win that it leaves us in a really good position to get a home quarter-final."
You can listen again to Sportsound Extra Time on BBC Sounds.