The door of Scoil Ailbhe ahead of JP Cooneys return to his alma mater
Scoil Ailbhe CBS Primary School reverberated to the sound of cheering and applause from early this morning as past pupil JP Cooney made a triumphant return to where it all started.
Fifty times capped Connacht rugby star JP Cooney returned to his alma mater in Scoil Ailbhe CBS Primary School, Thurles this morning and was accorded a rousing reception from the pupils, staff and guests who delighted in his achievements and in his inspirational words to the kids.
Fifteen years ago, JP walked the famed corridors of the school where he participated in all sports, music, Christmas concerts, the school choir - the staff had even managed to resurrect a photo of him in the Christmas concert clinging on to his Barney teddy bear. And, he expressed delight at having been asked back to the school where his father Andy continues to play the bag pipes, leading the Yard league finalists around the pitch before the famous annual hurling finale battles.
"I had a great time here in Scoil Ailbhe and I'd say to you all to enjoy your time. Play as much as ye can and get involved in sports, music, whatever. A lot has changed since I was here, but in many other ways it has stayed exactly the same. You have a fantastic school here and I am so delighted to be back here again to see what all of ye are doing. Ye are so lucky to have a school like this where ye get to do so much and have so much fun," JP told the pupils.
JP in action for Connacht
Admitting that he wasn't much of a hurler - "I'd need an acre to turn," he joked - JP was thrilled to see members of Thurles Rugby Football Club in attendance and he encouraged kids to try their hand at as many sports as possible.
In a revealing questions and answer session conducted by the students, the affable JP spoke of his huge regard for colleague and Connacht team captain, the legendary John Muldoon, while also stating that he has no idea what he would like to do after his rugby career finishes - he has a degree in science - Physics and Chemistry - and is a qualified teacher.
John Muldoon lifts the Pro 12 silverware for Connacht.
He also had the students cringing with details of his list of injuries including shoulder reconstruction which he underwent a few seasons ago. And, he was asked in some detail to account for the size of his 'guns' - his muscles. "You have to work very hard to build them up. There is no quick fix for that," he said.
JP was at great ease as he chatted and posed for photos with students and staff. Then, he was off back to Galway for more training work with his colleagues.
A heroes welcome it certainly was for a man who has inspired the boys of Scoil Ailbhe.