Peter O’Mahony makes natural progression to captaincy

Munster 23-year-old takes Ireland to North America without established leadership group

Peter O’Mahony: “Sometimes you don’t have to say anything when the boys are in the right place.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Peter O’Mahony: “Sometimes you don’t have to say anything when the boys are in the right place.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho


Peter O’Mahony is a confrontational rugby player. It’s how he established himself in Ireland’s backrow this season.

Injuries to Stephen Ferris and Denis Leamy undoubtedly cleared the way, but O’Mahony brings something different from that Grand Slam winning pair of monstrous blindsides.

He’s a leader. A natural born one. He is also versatile, playing six, seven or Number Eight, where he is expected to start against both the US Eagles and Canada next month in the abscence of Jamie Heaslip.

Dylan Hartley’s ill-advised comments to referee Wayne Barnes, which saw Rory Best hastily shifted out to Hong Kong, meant O’Mahony, aged just 23, became the obvious candidate for Les Kiss to crown tour captain.

Chris Henry has led Ulster on occasion but there isn’t anyone else with his level experience. Cork Constitution trusted him to be their leader as an 11-year-old, a brutal mission through France we are told.

“I took a tour at under-12 to France when Fred Casey was the coach at Con,” said O’Mahony yesterday. “That was the first time I took a touring side away.”

He “took” them. Not arrogance, just fact.

Munster followed suit, making him captain during the 2011 World Cup having just turned 21, but this was after leading Presentation College, Cork and Ireland at underage levels.

“Schools rugby – senior cup, Munster schools, Irish schools, Irish 19s – they were the start of the all-round captain’s role, talking afterwards. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just something you have to do.

“I enjoy captaining teams on the pitch. Around team rooms it is nice to have an input on leadership groups. I don’t know if it comes naturally, it’s just something I enjoy.”

Not that he says much. O’Mahony takes up the serious man persona when it comes to being quizzed by a pack of, well, not so serious media folk.

“Sometimes you don’t have to say anything when the boys are in the right place. Especially at international rugby.

“There is a time and a place when you need to have a word, but there is a time and a place when you just need to shut up and get out and do it.”

Personalities attract
Simon Zebo is the opposite. And such personalities tend to attract, especially when they are both winners. Yet Zebo is a winger who wants to play with élan, score tries and launch booming left footers.

“Nah, it is not really my personality to be giving orders to people and stuff,” said Zebo yesterday having strolled into the stunning Morrison room in Carton House as if landing in a pal’s kitchen. “Peter O’Mahony would be pretty good at that stuff. I will just leave it to him.”

It helps that his fellow Corkonian has been an ever-present since childhood on this rugby journey (both missing out on Lions selection by a whisker).

“He has captained me at Cork Con, Pres, Munster and now Ireland. I just know him as a captain even when he’s not.

“He has just got great leadership skills, doesn’t necessarily have to be done by talking. Pete’s just a fantastic leader on the pitch. Everyone is willing to follow him no matter what he does. Yeah, he is a great, great captain.”

Albeit with a great, great challenge ahead. It means others must rise, others like Leinster’s consistently improving lock Devin Toner.

Stamp authority
“What am I going to bring to the tour? I’m going to take ownership a bit more, try and become a leader, bring my style to the lineouts, stamp my own authority.”

“I usually don’t speak up in meetings but I am going to try a bit harder to do it.”

The immediate lesson from Hartley calling Barnes a “f*****g cheat” in the English Premiership final is that zero tolerance when it comes to abusing referees will now prevail.

Officials the world over now know a precedent has been set.

O’Mahony plays in an ultra-aggressive fashion but his ability to communicate with referees has never been an issue.

“Different captains have different ways of going about it. It is about working with them as much as you can . . . You do your best to keep them onside and look after them and, from one to 15, have respect for them. It comes with a bit more experience. I have been lucky in that I have been able to watch Paulie and Drico deal with refs.

“Obviously guys like Richie McCaw do it very well. There haven’t been very many international captains who have been there for 30, 40 tests who aren’t good at dealing with referees.

“Like I said, I’ve had direct contact with two or three world class captains so I’ve had some good learning there.”