Memories of past failures a huge spur for Peter O’Mahony
Munster captain and his side braced for a focused Toulon’s visit to Thomond Park
Peter O’Mahony: “All the ones you have lost in Europe they all hurt for a long, long time.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Fear isn’t a pleasant emotion, but it’s also a powerful spur.
Fear of defeat has often inspired Munster in the past, witness a record of eight home wins out of nine at the quarter-final stages. Yet, as is assuredly true of most sports people, be it players or coaches, it’s the losses and the lows which linger longer, so further fuelling that fear.
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony has played in 40 European Champions Cup matches, and leaving aside one draw, the wins (29) far outnumber the losses (10).
Needless to say though, that win-loss ratio drops in the knockout stages.
O’Mahony, who made his Euro debut on that famous night in October 2011 when Ronan O’Gara kicked a match-winning drop goal in overtime at the end of Munster’s 41-phase drive against Northampton, need only think back to his first knockout game.
That was the only quarter-final Munster have lost at Thomond Park, when a Ruan Pienaar-inspired Ulster stormed their citadel in April 2012 to win 22-16. O’Mahony has been part of three subsequent quarter-final wins away to Harlequins the following season and in the two thrashings of Toulouse at Thomond Park four seasons ago and last year.
However, he also has the acutely disappointing memories of a semi-final defeat to Clermont in 2012-13 in Montpellier and when ruthlessly dismantled by Saracens at the Aviva Stadium last season.
“Unfortunately the bad memories are always the ones that stick out, and you always have a little bit of fear driving you on,” he admitted this week.
“Not that you’ll sit down and think about it, but you’ll get a flashback and they’re not feelings you want to have again. Certainly they affect you as you go on through your career, the ones that you’ve left behind you and the ones that you’ve been beaten up in as well. That’s part of being an elderly fella who has played a few times in the knockout stages and been beaten. You don’t want to be back there again.”
O’Mahony was not inclined to pick one out in particular.
“All the ones you have lost in Europe they all hurt for a long, long time after. They probably shouldn’t. But in this game they do because it is what you are here for. We have to use that hurt.”
The Munster captain has had an eventful time of it lately, for after the high of Ireland’s Grand Slam, he proposed to his long-time girlfriend Jessica Moloney while on a break in Dubai last week, so long indeed that it prompted Jessica to joke on Instagram: “And I was beginning to think that knee couldn’t bend.”
But no sooner was he back in the Munster fold on Monday than, he admitted, the prospect of facing Toulon and watching their 49-0 win over Clermont last Sunday focused his mind.
“I know Clermont will be disappointed with some of the aspects of their play but it was a very impressive, relentless performance from Toulon, so, not that you needed to focus, but that would certainly do it for you.”
Asked to pinpoint Toulon’s strengths, and O’Mahony said: “It is probably as hard to pick a weakness in them. Their pack have the ability to beat teams up and their backs have probably even more of an ability to beat teams up.
“Guys like Josua Tuisova, Malakai Fekitoa and Mathieu Bastareaud, you are naming household names across the board. The go-forward ball that Bastareaud gives them makes them difficult to stop. It is about momentum. They have a lot of momentum givers so they are some of the guys we are going to have to stop at the weekend.”
Maintaining the theme, if Munster’s display is to make Thomond Park a factor, he says: “We have got to bring a huge physicality. A big part of Toulon and a lot of these French teams, is that they beat you up. It is hard to stop. We played Racing over there; two tries, 14 points later, and we kind of felt ‘what hit us?’ I mean it was relentless stuff. And it is difficult to stop.
“So if I was going to pick one thing, it would be to stop their momentum. That is certainly easier said than done. You try and stop them at source, by going after their set-piece. It is not like I am giving away big parts of what we have to do.
“We go after set-piece, their momentum givers, breakdown we have to be immaculate and our discipline has to be incredible. We are going to be under the pump at times and we have got to be squeaky clean when it comes to this, because they will chip away at us as well. “
O’Mahony cites the need to produce their best training performances of the season this week as a means of producing their best performance so far come Saturday. Nothing less will do.
Riddled with injuries, and coming up against a more expensively assembled, more recent Euro superpower, Munster are somehow 1/2 favourites, almost assuredly on the back of their aforementioned record at Thomond Park, especially in the knockout stages.
“We work hard during the pool stages to try and get a home quarter. Everyone wants to be at home for a reason,” says O’Mahony.
“It’s about one-per-centers in this game, you hear that a lot, and it probably makes it one per cent easier but all those big games that we’ve seen won in Thomond Park, it comes down to a massive performance on the day as well. So that’s what we’ve got to worry about. It’s the performance, matching the supporters’ performance that they always come out with, particularly in Europe, even more so in the knock-out stages. We’ve fabulous support, relentless support all over the world, and they’ll be flat out hopefully at the weekend.”