Sport seems trivial as O’Mahony wrestles with Foley loss
Munster captain grew up idolising man who became ‘coach, friend and brother’
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony before the media at the University of Limerick. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
No matter what he goes through on a rugby pitch for the rest of his career, you hope and presume Peter O’Mahony will never have to endure anything remotely like this past week, and this even includes yesterday’s press conference in Munster’s High Performance Centre at the UL.
On two occasions, he simply couldn’t find the words to talk about the man whom he described as his coach and his brother.
Who knows, perhaps he reckoned it’s what Anthony Foley would have done, but in any event it was brave, and above and beyond the call of duty to face a phalanx of cameras and dictaphones. It was emotionally charged and even felt a little intrusive. One ventures he was glad to return to the confines of the squad, even if his priorities remain elsewhere this week.
“We just try and make it as normal as possible, as much as you can,” he said, when asked if there was any comfort in having some sense of match-week routine.
“I think the main thing is that we’re there for Olive and the kids and that’s been our focus outside of being in the four walls.
“Obviously that’s all we’re thinking about outside of maybe the 60 or 70 minutes of training that we did today and yesterday. We’ve just got to be there for them now. It’s not about us. It’s not about anything else. It’s about minding them now over the next few weeks.”
Yet, there has been some comfort in returning to modified training on yesterday and today, in being amongst each other. “We’ve been around each other which I found has made it easier. Being away from the squad and with the lads around here, that would make it harder. I think the more time we spend together, the better.”
Somehow, and heaven knows how, O’Mahony and his fellow players will endeavour to play a rugby match on Saturday. There may be a part of them that reasoned Foley would have wanted them to, but this truly shocking and traumatic week has highlighted the relative irrelevancy of a rugby match.
“Look, at the end of the day, it’s all pretty trivial. When you’re thrown into a scenario like this, it puts a lot of things into perspective for everyone.”
O’Mahony grew up idolising Foley, the player who wore the same number eight jersey with such distinction, and then came into the Munster fold just as Foley was starting out on his coaching career.
O’Mahony, to whom the baton of captaincy has been passed on from Mick Galwey, Foley, Paul O’Connell and others, recalled his first game for the Munster under-20s was also Foley’s first match as the team’s coach.
“I was lucky, I grew up following him around the place, even though he didn’t know it.
“And then to be allowed to come in and rub shoulders with guys like him. He’d just finished up playing when I came into the academy and into my development contract but for him to be around and to be allowed to talk to him and be in his presence, it was a dream come true at the time and it stayed that way up until last weekend.
“My first game that he coached me at Munster was an under-20 game at Thomond Park. We won it 3-0 ironically enough and that suited Axe as good as if we’d won it by 60 or 70 points. He was a man who wanted any Munster jersey to win at any cost.
“I’m not going to do him justice here with all the words I could say, to be honest. Personally, he meant a huge amount. He’s been there, I haven’t been involved or supported a Munster team that he wasn’t involved in. He’s been there since the start. Every team I’ve seen or been involved in, he’s played or coached.
“The amount he’s given the club, you can’t put that into words.
“I was lucky he was in my position as well, the knowledge he could give to me. At times it was frustrating because he was such a good footballer, he found it hard at times to understand that we couldn’t see what he could.
“That was probably what frustrated him most, he was blessed with such a rugby brain and mind. You could never learn . . . The amount we’ve lost now that he’s gone is incredible, the rugby knowledge, the brain; the man, the coach and the friend, the brother. It’s mad.”
Asked what he learned most from Foley, O’Mahony said: “I learned a huge amount from him. I couldn’t pick just one thing, and I couldn’t just pick the rugby side of stuff. I learned life skills from him, family skills from him. Seeing him bringing Tony and Dan around the dressing room after games, I used to say that I’d love to bring my kids around.”
Then the words failed him once more, and with that, all too understandably, he returned to be with his fellow players.