John Cooney has been in fine form lately, continuing his influence on Ulster's season with a 79th-minute penalty to give them the four points against Harlequins at Kingspan Stadium.

Stepping up to the kicking tee in the final minute brings back fond memories for me but looking back with rose-tinted glasses sometimes allows you to forget about how the actual situation played out.

Playing my club rugby in Cork Con allowed me some opportunities to kick for points at the end of games. We liked to make things tough for ourselves at times, requiring spirited comebacks to take something from the game.

It’s all great craic for the players but as the goal-kicker you’re sometimes thinking about other outcomes.

Going from a younger more inexperienced player to a more senior player changes your mindset when it comes to those dreaded last-minute goal-kicks.

You start to look at them as an opportunity for you to show everyone what you can do and that you’ve got the bottle to lead the team.

That’s exactly the mindset that John Cooney is in now. He’s looking to step up and be the catalyst that will spur the Northerners on to victory. They need that kind of influence in the team and the former Leinster man is more than happy to be that guy.

If every out-half or goal-kicker tells you that they were always excited to be put on the spot at the end of the game then they are lying or part of a minority.

In a similar situation, Saracens had an opportunity at seven points down near the end of the match to try to share the spoils. As a young out-half some terrible thoughts go through your mind. In one way you are either hoping that the team scores under the posts or that they don’t score at all!

You can just slip in under the radar, no criticism, no self-doubt. But with that comes no growth. It’s a natural thing to feel.

If every out-half or goal-kicker tells you that they were always excited to be put on the spot at the end of the game then they are lying or part of a minority.

John Cooney slotted a pivotal kick against Clermont at the weekend

I remember having to take a last-minute kick for Cork Con two weeks in a row. The first one was to draw the game against Young Munster and the sun was coming straight through the posts so I couldn’t actually see what I was kicking into. I had to just stick to my routine, kick based on how my kicking tee was set up and trust the process.

The following week we had a penalty to beat Lansdowne in the back pitch at the Aviva.

Kickers will tell you that they are completely focused on the process but I was thinking about other things. "Imagine if I actually pulled this off two weeks in a row". My knees were knocking, I was nervous but thankfully I was on target to get the win.

A 78th-minute conversion over in Nottingham in an 'A’ game gave me another opportunity. I couldn’t shirk that one either because I was the one that missed the tackle that allowed them to go ahead in the first place.

A very quiet Notts County football stadium meant that I could hear the jeers of the crowd trying to put me off. Maybe if it was a full stadium with more of an atmosphere I would have been able to block it out but I could hear the crowd with every approaching step to the ball.

After my injury I had changed my mindset completely. I no longer saw these situations as scary. I was looking for these opportunities so I could prove myself and knew that if I didn’t get the chance then I couldn’t show anyone what I was capable of.

It could be seen as a huge moment to mess up or quite the opposite where you had a chance to be the hero. I also had a lot of match-day nerves and actually hated playing matches for quite some time. Funny that a player who trains and prepares for these moments for their whole career actually doesn’t look forward to carrying out what you think is your sole purpose in life.

John Cooney is riding the crest of a wave at the moment. Maybe the Six Nations will be his breakthrough on the international scene. 

There had to be a mindset change for me and looking forward to these moments was how I achieved that.

It became as simple as taking a step forward the minute the referee blew his whistle for the team to leave the dressing room. I no longer hung back and left others leave the dressing room before me.

I wanted to take on the challenge head on. The first person out of the dressing room was the captain and after that it became a race to lead with him.

John Cooney scoring a late consolation try against England in the 2019 Six Nations

I wonder what Cooney’s thoughts are leading into these games. Is he looking to be the one that Ulster rely on to get them through some games? Or has he just built up his mindset to a point where it doesn’t really matter what the situation is, he’s just in his flow and takes it all in his stride?

Players deal with these pressures differently. What was Manu Vunipola thinking when Saracens got the penalty to kick to touch? Is it possible there was relief that Jack O’Donoghue stole the ball for Munster because at that moment he couldn’t be tested?

I’m sure that players don’t just turn up to professional rugby with a rock-solid mindset. This is what separates good players from great players.

Not every effort will go their way but that’s all part of it; learning to deal with the upset of missing one for your team and still having the confidence to be the one to step up the next time. Pressure can change players, positively and negatively.

Cooney is riding the crest of a wave at the moment. Maybe the Six Nations will be his breakthrough on the international scene.