In what has been a dismissal season for Ulster all round, there are two definite silver linings that will provide comfort this summer. One is today's result which ensures Kingspan Stadium will host Champions Cup rugby next season. The other is their player of the year, and the most improved Irishman in rugby; John Cooney.
Cooney transferred from Connacht in 2017 having failed to establish himself as a regular out west. The scrum-half was an apt squad player but looked increasingly unlikely to oust Kieran Marmion and elected to move north. Cooney is 28, yet this season has been a revelation.
The undoubted first choice this year, Cooney's placekicking has been outstanding, his delivery is rapid and his contribution in open play has been fantastic. He was at hand today to dive in and secure a huge intercept before offloading for Craig Gilroy's second try.
— BBC SPORT NI (@BBCSPORTNI) May 20, 2018
As the province looks to attract new faces for the next season, the case of Cooney is worthy evidence of what is available.
John Cooney is having another brilliant game. What a signing he has been for Ulster.
— Cian Tracey (@CianTracey1) May 20, 2018
— audrey (@Auds_Fulham) May 20, 2018
I’ll be surprised if John Cooney is not in Ireland squad for tour to Australia, excellent again today for Ulster. #ULSvOSP
— Daniel Keohane (@KeohaneDan) May 20, 2018
Ulster have particular areas that need addressing, nowhere more so than at out-half. However, with European rugby established and an exciting coaching ticket secured, the prospect of a potential Joey Carbery- Cooney half-back partnership suddenly looks a lot more exciting.