Friendships on hold as Peter O’Mahony prepares for Wales
‘They’ve always been incredibly well-drilled and an incredibly dangerous team’
Peter O’Mahony: “There’s a Scarlets look about them, which is very impressive and means they’re very dangerous across the board.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Sometimes the person that lurks beneath a sportsperson’s public persona becomes visible, their thoughts and words offering a genuine counterpoint to the game-centric camouflage.
Peter O’Mahony spoke across a variety of topics germane to Ireland’s Six Nations Championship match against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (2.15).
The Munster captain is celebrated for work in the lineout, the breakdown and in the tackle area but there were a few cameos in the Italian match that reminded everyone of his athleticism and game appreciation in the wider channels.
It provoked a question about the grind, mental and physical, in returning to the place that predated the injury. It’s frustrating. It’s trying to get match-fitness back, match-sharpness and it’s a difficult thing to get back to the level that we’re playing at now. It does take a long time.
“It takes a long time for your knee to feel normal again which it is starting to do. It’s been a long time, nearly two years coming up, so it’s feeling good and I’m feeling fit again,” said O’Mahony.
When asked about the specifics of the pain, the knee not being 100 per cent right, he continued: “It just doesn’t feel like the other knee, you know? It’s invasive, it’s a big surgery. Not too long ago it finished a lot of people but luckily thanks to lots of breakthroughs it’s now quite a standard procedure.
“It’s a big procedure, but you hear of guys coming back after six or nine months; it wasn’t for me, it was sore for a lot longer than that and it takes time to get back to that sharpness. I feel like I’m getting there now, yeah.”
In the bubble of the day-to-day rehabilitation he conceded that sometimes the bigger picture was harder to focus on and that the nagging doubt lingered right up until the day he played his first match since the surgery; never mind whether he’d still possess all the playing faculties that made him the player he was.
“At the time of running onto the pitch you’re second guessing yourself, but you get through it and game-by-game you start feeling better, trusting it more and more and now, luckily, you just don’t think about it.”
He took consolation from the fact that he was a young man and therefore had time on his side to ensure that he got everything right or as much as could be done, before returning.”
On the specifics of Saturday, he declined to compare the methods of the two coaches, Wales’ Warren Gatland who made him captain for the first Lions’ Test against New Zealand last summer, and Ireland’s Joe Schmidt other than to say that they had different styles of coaching.
There is something of a sibling rivalry to games between Ireland and Wales over the past decade. It’s not that the brotherhood of touring together as Lions will be forgotten, just put to one side for 80-minutes.
O’Mahony explained: “You build up some great friendships, and as a result of that little rivalries come out as well. But it’s another Six Nations game; there are rivalries between every team.
“There were a lot of us worked under Gats [Gatland] and alongside a lot of the [Welsh] players, but that just adds to the friendship and rivalry. We are very inward looking, self-focused. We spent all last week looking back to the second half against Italy, and seeing how we can improve, defensively first of all, and how we can add to our attack. It’s all about us at the moment, and looking after our own plan.
“Obviously, they’ve expanded their game a bit. You can see the way their pack is given the license to throw the ball about. There’s a Scarlets look about them, which is very impressive and means they’re very dangerous across the board.
“They’ve always been incredibly well-drilled and an incredibly dangerous team. But they’ve probably added a little bow to the whole thing of them playing the ball a bit more. It puts the emphasis on us being very good defensively at the weekend.”