Ireland skipper Peter O’Mahony settling into leadership role despite Test anxiety

‘It’s good to be nervous. It’s part of the love of it is being nervous. You know you’re off the boil if you’re not’

With age comes wisdom and with experience, you would have thought, comes a more sanguine and relaxed temperament about something you’ve done 102 times for your country. Not a bit of it. Not for Peter O’Mahony anyway.

It was almost surprising to hear the grizzled Munster man freely admit that he had become so nervous in advance of his first game as Ireland’s new full-time captain against France in Marseille that in the build-up he’d have traded ending the rest of his career for a win.

On Thursday, Andy Farrell revealed that in their review of that match many of the squad had confessed to feeling nervous, and no one more so than the 34-year-old who has captained pretty much every side he’s ever played from mini-rugby upwards.

“It was a big occasion for him,” explained Farrell. “He’s normally very nervous no matter what anyway. He’s always on the edge as far as that’s concerned, that’s what makes him feel right. But as far as getting across running the week and what that entails at this level, he’s been growing week on week and he’s been fantastic this week in that regard.”


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O’Mahony has never struck us as one of those players for whom an audience with the media is one of the joys of captaincy, but in a notably relaxed and convivial mood yesterday, he was asked whether the nerves had eased or worsened over the years.

“I think probably worse it’s getting,” he admitted with a wry smile. “You find more ways to combat it but it doesn’t get any easier.”

O’Mahony then describes the experience in a way that will resonate with most of us, and also sound nearly nightmarish.

“I’d often describe it as doing your Leaving Cert with 60,000 people correcting it live and another whatever watching at home — except doing it every weekend.

“You’ve to find a way to find some sleep during the week before your first Test. It doesn’t get any easier, but you do find ways and we’ve used different tools … it’s helped with experience that you know what to do.

“I like to be around people, I don’t like to be on my own,” he admitted, revealingly. “I’d often head off for a coffee and as we’re going back to the hotel there’d be another group and I’d turn around and head off again.

“People find their own way, some people like to be left alone and you figure out what’s best for you. We’re lucky with the people around us that we can go to and have a chat with, but your team-mates are the best source of comfort for me.

“If you are nervous, worried about something, sitting down with someone for a couple of minutes over a laptop or a coffee — every time you feel better about it because a lot of the time fellahs are in the same boat.

“You think you’re on your own, but you’re not and it alleviates everyone when you go, ‘Jeez, I’m under pressure here’ and you can see a few fellahs go, ‘I’m in the same boat as well’.

“It’s good to be nervous. It’s part of the love of it is being nervous. You know you’re off the boil if you’re not,” he concluded, thereby reasoning it was a necessary evil.

But late kick-offs make the day drag.

“Personally, the late kick-offs for me are utter torture, you know; waiting around all day to kick a match off. The World Cup was the epitome of torture, 9pm in the evening, so you are hanging around all day waiting for it.

“Tomorrow is All-Ireland League kick-off,” added O’Mahony of the 2.15pm starting time, akin to the customary AIL 2.30 kick-offs of his time playing with Cork Con. “It is the best time, you know what I mean. You are up, you’ve kinda one big grub and you are into it, you are into getting out of the hotel. So, tomorrow I’m looking forward to an early kick-off!”

Today’s game will be his 13th as Irish captain, but this is his first proper stint in the role after succeeding Johnny Sexton and he admitted: “Yeh I’m loving it. I’ve been lucky I’ve been asked to be in lots of the leadership groups, so I have had an input.”

And, media duties apart, seemingly the role has benefits.

“There is a captain’s meeting tonight. I’ve enjoyed the one before France, little perks, some of the management looking after me a bit better. Johnny’s had it handy for the last 5/6 years,” joked O’Mahony.

“Those little touches here and there. I’m loving it. It is a great group to be around and as I said it is certainly easier when you are winning. But it is a good group of people to be around, making my life easier and letting me enjoy the role.”

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Not that he was revealing any of those perks.

“Ah, I am sworn to secrecy.”

Both O’Mahony and Conor Murray are coming off central contracts this season with no clear sign yet as to their futures, which seems increasingly bizarre and almost insulting to the current Irish captain given the vast sums the Six Nations generates for the IRFU.

There could be moves afoot behind the scenes by the union and Munster to offer them new contracts, but whereas Murray has openly declared his desire to continue playing beyond this season, O’Mahony was a little bit more circumspect yesterday.

“Ah look, I love it. I love playing for Ireland. And that’s my focus over the next three, four weeks, to enjoy myself. Like I said, it is a good group, it is a good environment, I’m learning all the time. If you tell me I can sit here forever, I’d play forever but that’s not the case. As I said, I’ll let you when I know when there is white smoke.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times