O'Mahony always had good head for heights
IRELAND v SOUTH AFRICA:Tough and versatile, Peter O’Mahony is a natural born leader in red and in green
Today is something of a benchmark day; a day for new leaders to be born. The new captain, Jamie Heaslip, is one of only three survivors from the Grand Slam starting XV three and a half years ago, and in the vanguard of this new generation for both provincial and national teams in transition is Peter O’Mahony. A baton is being passed on and he’s one who’s itching to grab it.
“We’re looking to create our own legacy,” says the Cork 23-year-old. “The boys have done what they’ve done, and there’s still a good few of them around and they’re going to be included in the new legacy that we’re going to create.”
It’s hard to credit he only made his Munster debut in January 2010 and his Ireland debut was as recently as last February against Italy. He and Donnacha Ryan were brought on simultaneously, and he likes the picture of them blessing themselves on the side of the pitch before they came on.
“So excited. So nervous. You just don’t want to let the fellas down. There’s no thinking time in international level, and you’ve just got to back yourself to know all the calls and just get on with the physicality of it.”
Since then he’s played against France, Scotland, England and New Zealand three times, and today faces South Africa. “I’ve been privileged to put on the jersey seven times now. It’s almost crazy when I say that to myself now. It makes me smile as well.”
As our interview in the foyer of the Carton House draws to a close, Jamie Heaslip breezes by in his own inimitable way. The new captain makes O’Mahony smile too. “He is different, but he’s different in his own good ways. Every captain I’ve been under has had different attributes, and he’s different as well. Fellas will row in behind him, no worries.”
O’Mahony himself has captained almost every side he’s played for, from Cork Con under-12s through to Pres Cork’s senior cup team and the Irish schools and Irish under-18s, 19s and 20s.
He was part of a Munster Schools Cup winning side captained by Scott Deasy in 2007 but not the following year when he was captain, a sore point.
“We lost to Castletroy in the semi-finals. Diarmuid McCarthy broke our hearts,” he recalls in reference to the latter’s match-winning brace of tries in a 23-22 defeat. “What can you do?”
The following season he went straight into the Munster Academy, but the desire to become a rugby player had been burning long before then.
“That’s why my old fella says, anyway,” he says in reference to his dad John O’Mahony, a Cork stalwart – aka Con John.
So from what age? “Three or four, I’d say, throwing line-outs in the back garden. I loved it. I used to go to his games. The subs used to mind me when he was crippled playing minor for Con, into CUH (Cork University Hospital) for cartilage clean-outs and stuff. I dunno. I just loved it.”
He’s not entirely kidding, for he began playing with the Con under-8s at the age of five. The pain of it. But it was never going to turn him off the game.