Peter O’Mahony’s Munster captaincy could clear the Ireland way for Paul O’Connell
Joe Schmidt yet to appoint skipper but veteran secondrow has strong CV
Peter O’Mahony: ‘I’m just delighted with this opportunity now. It is very special’ Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has yet to announce who will lead the Ireland team against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand in the November international series but yesterday’s announcement in Munster might be seen to exclude one candidate, Peter O’Mahony, and likely leaves the door ajar for his provincial colleague, Paul O’Connell, to step in.
O’Mahony will be Munster captain this season, leaving Schmidt with a decision to make at Ireland level. In that respect O’Connell’s CV will tell the new man at the helm he has captained Ireland 11 times, when covering for injured Brian O’Driscoll.
Heaslip then controversially held on to the arm band for this year’s Six Nations Championship, even though O’Driscoll was fit again.
Following on from his recent captaincy of the Ireland touring squad to North America, which was deemed a huge success for the flanker, the 23-year-old O’Mahony takes over at Munster from former All Black Doug Howlett, who retired in June.
No stranger to the role, O’Mahony previously captained Munster during the 2011-12 season in O’Connell’s absence and that year claimed the Munster Rugby Young Player of the Year award.
A natural leader through the age grades in the game, he has previously captained the Ireland U20 and U18 sides.
“Captaining Ireland and your country is huge, and obviously that experience will stand to me but I’m just delighted with this opportunity now. It is very special,” said O’Mahony.
“When I was asked by Rob (coach, Penney) initially I was just shocked; my first instinct was to jump at it but I had time to go away and think about it and then I wanted to talk to people to get their thoughts.
“Fellas like Paulie (O’Connell) are very important guys in this squad and hopefully he and the other guys will be behind me for the year and I’m really looking forward to it.
“I’m not going to try and fill Paulie’s boots, Axel’s (Anthony Foley) boots or Dougie’s (Howlett). I’m going to try and be my own captain, look after the lads and figure out the way I’m going to do things.”
O’Mahony made his Munster debut over three years ago as a replacement against Ulster before a man-of-the match performance on his Heineken Cup debut against Northampton Saints in November 2011.
He scored his first Munster try a week later against Castres Olympique and now has 16 Irish caps, including two as captain during the recent tour to USA and Canada.
The Cork man is necessarily going to have a different captaining style to 62-cap Howlett, a try-scoring record holder for New Zealand with 49 touchdowns.
O’Mahony’s aggression on the pitch and calm demeanour off it, as well as his traditional Munster playing style of being brave, honest and selfless makes him a natural officer in the squad.
The timing of the promotion may also be pertinent for O’Mahony’s international career.
Ireland blindside Stephen Ferris has been retained by Ulster coach Mark Anscombe on a short-term contract, where the policy appears to be wait and see.
The injuries to Ferris’s knee and ankle that have kept him from being a competitive player for all of last season may still not be fully resolved and O’Mahony is well placed to take advantage and possibly step into an Ireland backrow as a starting flanker with Heaslip and Leinster’s Seán O’Brien.
“Peter is a naturally gifted leader and is still very young but has a lot of the attributes that are special and intrinsic to Munster,” said Penney.
“He will grow in to being a special leader of this group of men. I have spoken to players including Paul O’Connell who was extremely supportive of Pete’s appointment. We went through a process last year to appoint Dougie via the players and this year Peter’s name was to the forefront of that list so taking all that information on board it was a no-brainer that Pete would be appointed.”