O'Mahony primed for daunting Wales fixture
SIX NATIONS:If Peter O’Mahony still has the slightly awestruck air of someone who sometimes needs to be pinched to wake up from a dream, it’s understandable.
Playing for Ireland clearly means the world to him – every minute of it. And hence he would never take it for granted, but he’s beginning to settle his feet under the table now.
It is possibly worth reminding ourselves that prior to last season he had started only two games for Munster and at this point last year had still to make his Test debut. Yet, having been an unused replacement in the corresponding Six Nations opener against Wales, he made his debut as a replacement a week later against Italy and on Saturday makes his 10th appearance and fourth start in succession.
Not that he’s had the inclination or time to take stock.
“I’m delighted the way the last 12 to 18 months have gone, but there are so many big games coming up every weekend it’s hard. I haven’t been wanting to find time, but . . . I haven’t found time regardless to stand back and look back.”
On Saturday, he plays his first game at the Millennium Stadium, having first visited there at 16 years of age when he was among the 60,000-strong Red Army which invaded Cardiff to see Munster finally claim a first Heineken Cup. But soon after he was rubbing shoulders, playing with and eventually emulating some of his backrow heroes. Now it’s the same way with Ireland.
The process has been inspiring and daunting. “To come from supporter to rubbing shoulders and then playing alongside them, it’s a bit mad at times. It’s kind of settled down now and I’m enjoying it.”
That Anthony Foley has remained as part of the coaching fabric with Munster, and David Wallace and Alan Quinlan have been around the scene as sounding boards, has been invaluable. “These guys have so much knowledge. It would worry me to think how many caps they have between them for both Munster and Ireland. It would be silly of me not to tap into that kind of knowledge.”
Having captained virtually every side he’s played for, from Cork Con Under-12s to the Ireland Under-20s and even Munster on and off since the start of last season, O’Mahony also played much of his formative years with PBC at outhalf and even played an AIL semi-final for Con on the wing.
His versatility has seen him play across the backrow and opinion still rages as to his best position, although he’s had a steady run at blindside with province and country since November and it’s evidently benefited him.
“I don’t want to say, ‘I’m X’ or ‘I’m Y’. You want to take bits and pieces from different players and add them to your skill-set. But you’re never going to be as good as Wally was at doing certain things, or as good as Axel was, or as good as Seán O’Brien is. You try and take bits and you try and improve your game at all times but I don’t feel like I’ve taken the jersey off anyone. People have been there before me and . . . I won’t be here forever, but I’m doing my best as I am. [At number] Seven you’re more at the coalface. . . . first phase is your game, and then six and eight you’re given a bit more time to float and carry more.
I started off with number eight for Munster, had a game at number seven before November, then went to number six for November and kind of stayed . . . I’m happy enough.”
Thrilled as he is to be starting alongside the aforementioned European Player of the Year and the new captain, O’Mahony maintains he has no preference. “No, I wouldn’t . . . I’m over the moon that I’ve got a starting jersey . . . you can’t take them for granted.”
For this pivotal opener, which he describes as “huge”, O’Mahony has been retained for his direct, forceful brand of hard running and tackling, but also in part for his lineout abilities – an area Ireland are liable to target given Welsh injuries in the secondrow.
He and Donnacha Ryan will be key men, where once it would have been Quinlan and Paul O’Connell. One of O’Mahony’s favourite mementoes is a photograph of himself and Ryan blessing themselves before being introduced as a double substitution on his debut against Italy.
“People don’t see it, but the work he puts in,” says O’Mahony about Ryan. “He’s had outstanding characters in that jersey before him that he has learned a lot off.
“The amount of work he puts in and the time and hours watching videos is incredible. Everyone in the squad looks up to him.”
Innately modest and humble like Ryan too, O’Mahony’s journey may have been quicker but, like of all of a team drawn from the four provinces, green reigns.
“Ireland is the ultimate,” he says, assuming that pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming mode again. “What a privilege and honour it is to pull on an international jersey, whatever country you are from. To pull on an Irish jersey is the ultimate.”