Peter O’Mahony ready to go hard and go 100 per cent

Proud Munster captain will pose a formidable threat to England’s hopes at Twickenham today

Peter O’Mahony: “You wouldn’t think of it when you were younger. You’d dream of it, but you’d say to yourself ‘don’t be silly like, to think about it’. But it’s Ireland-England at Twickenham on Saturday, and I’m playing number six. It’s mad.” Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Peter O’Mahony: “You wouldn’t think of it when you were younger. You’d dream of it, but you’d say to yourself ‘don’t be silly like, to think about it’. But it’s Ireland-England at Twickenham on Saturday, and I’m playing number six. It’s mad.” Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Not only does Peter O’Mahony freely admit that he never had the capacity to play anything other than rugby, listening to him recount his career from its first fledgling steps to now, it’s hard to imagine him ever being remotely interested in doing anything else with his life. To the manor born.

Most of the way through a half-hour in his company at Carton House on Thursday, it suddenly seemed like a good idea to ask him what might he have done had he not been a rugby player.

“That’s a scary thought, yeah,” he freely admits with a smile after a few moments’ consideration. “If I hadn’t got a couple of breaks I’d have been in trouble.”

Had he ever seriously considered doing something else. “No. Probably not. No.”

Watching England-Ireland games at Twickenham were a major part of his formative years. For him it is a special fixture. Part of a Cork Constitution underage tour to London, he recalls being at Twickenham for one of those heavy defeats, 50-18 in 2000 or 45-11 two years later, but can’t be certain which one. “I don’t think it was a good memory,” he says smiling.

A similar sentiment applies to his first appearance there two years ago as a late sub in a sinking Irish ship which went down 30-9. “Jeez, I remember the dressing-room afterwards was rough. It’s something you try and forget about to be honest.”

His first game at Lansdowne Road had been for the unveiling of the floodlights in the 40-24 defeat to Samoa in November 1996 as a seven-year-old, and so Inga Tuigamala left the biggest impression on him. He became a regular at Lansdowne Road for Six Nations games, taking the train up to Heuston Station with his dad, John. The advent of the Luas red line for the 2005 Six Nations was a welcome bonus, allowing for student travel into the city centre.

It was around then, 15/16, that he remembers taking the trek with schoolmates by train and Luas, and then the same route back. “Good days. Savage memories, especially down on the kids’ terrace. All sorts of stuff going on. They’re the days you chat about now when you meet up for a pint with your old school buddies.”

Now O’Mahony spends match-week in the Carton House and is driven to the match-day venues by coach. “It’s mad, because it’s not that long ago when you were standing there and waiting for fellas’ autographs. That’s why I’d like to think I’d always be the last to leave, especially on those open days at the Aviva. I can remember that there’s nothing worse than nearly getting a fella, and he’s two feet away from you and he gets hauled away. They’re the ones you remember, not the ones you have on the jersey. The grandmother would always remind me that it’s important to give a good image to the young fellas. Mrs Conroy as I’ve always known her.”

Bit biased
He had his boyhood heroes, naturally. “Woody would have been well up there. Axel. Gaillimh. Ah I used to see them a lot in Musgrave Park and Thomond Park as well, and I used to see them around Cork, so I was probably a bit biased towards the Munster lads.”

Idolised them? “Ah yeah. Absolutely. I didn’t play any other sport. I played one or two games of GAA alright in goal for my school and I was asked to leave the soccer team after about two training sessions. I halved a couple of fellas and they said: ‘this isn’t for you’. They didn’t bring me on in the first game I was involved in, so that was the end of that. I was having words with the coach for not bringing me on, so I think it was just rugby all the way through.”

His father, a one-time PRO with Con and now club secretary, is a true club stalwart, so much so that he’s known as Con John. He played lock and centre along the way with pretty much every Con team, some on the firsts but mostly on the seconds.

O’Mahony’s mum, Caroline, also had two other rugby-playing boys to rear, Mark and Cian. “Mark is a good social rugby player. He loves his few pints after games in Con. Cian is in first year at Pres. He’ll be a backrower I think. But he got 13 As in his first Christmas exams, and that was certainly the first time that ever happened in the O’Mahony household,” he reveals happily.

O’Mahony began playing mini-rugby at the age of five, thus having three years on the under-8s, when Luke Fitzgerald was a team-mate. “He was class. Himself and Zebo would be the two players you’d remember from underage.”

Aside from their Con days together, O’Mahony and Zebo were classmates for six years in Pres. “All our underage teams it was ‘get the ball to Zebo’,” recalls O’Mahony, chuckling. “He’d burn everyone.”

Corporate lunch
“I used to spend every weekday waiting for the weekend when you’re only training once on Saturday. Then when you get to 12 you’re training twice [per week] which was the best thing ever; two days in Con. I spent most of both Saturdays and Sundays up there anyway, watching the senior game and the junior game.”

His dad would play in the latter, “about three years after he should have stopped,” reckons O’Mahony, who says the subs babysat him and even taped him up as if he was going to play himself.

“There’s a photograph of me at home, I’d say I was nine or ten, and I had the Con tie on at a corporate lunch. Paulie would have been playing against Con, and Wally [David Wallace], these kind of players. It was awesome. You would have seen most of the Munster team down there in those days.”

During the week Anthony Foley explained that every Munster player is formed by their home village/town/city, their school, and their club. “Yeah, you could go into names but you’d have too many,” agrees O’Mahony. “It’s Cork, Pres and Con.”

Pres, to O’Mahony, was initially a source of frustration because there wasn’t enough rugby. “I love rugby but I went through a rough time of it. I used to get frustrated a lot from first to third year,” he reveals. “I think Bowne Shield [under-16] year was one of the most enjoyable years I’ve had of rugby – a competitive game every Wednesday rather than waiting for a Cup game that was coming six months away.”

O’Mahony won a Munster Schools Senior Cup medal in his penultimate year with a first win in his time over Christians at Musgrave Park, but not, annoyingly still, in his final year. So with PBC and Con in his DNA, so too are Munster. “It’s a very proud thing for me to put on a jersey that I’ve idolised. Munster the entity is almost tangible for people who live there. There’s a lot of pride attached to the jersey and the team, so it’s unbelievable to be a part of it now.”

New breed
There is a new breed of Munster player, epitomised by Zebo, Conor Murray and O’Mahony, yet unlike the former two you’d identify O’Mahony as more in keeping with the older guard. “Well that’s a big compliment. It was mad coming in first and training with the guys. Ninety per cent of them were still around. Gaillimh and Claw weren’t there but you had hard Munster forwards still there. I learned a huge amount from those couple of years.”

Tony McGahan’s long-held forecast that the one-time Ireland U-18 and U-20 captain was a Munster captain in the making came to fruition under his watch and this season, before he had turned 24, he was given the job full-time. He also captained Ireland on the summer tour, the youngest person to do so since O’Driscoll.

“I’ve always enjoyed being involved in the game plan and being in leadership at team meetings whenever I was invited in. I suppose sometimes fellas get pigeon-holed when they’re younger to captain sides but I’ve always enjoyed it.”

His on-field personality suggests a little bit of a Munster ranter and raver, O’Connell, his off-field demeanour hints at being more considered, akin to O’Driscoll. “I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to play under probably some of the best captains in the world. You see the way Brian carries on, obviously Paul, Axel, Dougie, these kind of guys. There’s times when you need to talk and shout, but I think rugby has got away from that image of us screaming and roaring, and head-butting each other in the dressing-room beforehand. But there’s time for the old style to go back to as well.”

All the more so in an Irish dressing-room, which O’Mahony describes as the ultimate. “You wouldn’t think of it when you were younger. You’d dream of it, but you’d say to yourself ‘don’t be silly like, to think about it’. But it’s Ireland-England at Twickenham on Saturday, and I’m playing number six. It’s mad,” he deduces.

Utterly appalling
His belting out of the Irish anthems before the Welsh match had become a YouTube sensation even before the game was over. “I was waiting for this one,” he says first off. “Jeez, I’ve got a lot of stick about it on Twitter. Apparently I was utterly appalling,” he says with a hint of embarrassment.

He’s a professional rugby player, not a professional singer, he reasons, adding: “I’ve always loved Amhrán na bhFiann and Ireland’s Call . They’re important, not just for Irish rugby but for Ireland in general. You’re staring up at a stand with probably everybody that’s important to you. It’s an emotional few minutes but you do it and put it to bed and you get on with it.”

Away from rugby, he enjoys coffee mornings with team-mates or friends, and he has remained good pals with Ireland U-20 team-mates like Jack McGrath, Dave Kearney and Conor Murray. He is renting a gate lodge and he likes taking his black Labrador, Roxy, down to the beach in Fountainstown. “I love that kind of area. I don’t like cities as much.”

Today will be back in the bright lights, and tough, and he knows it. “Not only are they a big pack, but mobile, some seriously dynamic carriers, and they’ve an incredibly young and energetic backline to compliment them . . . which is very encouraging from their point of view.”

England will have identified and targeted O’Mahony as a real threat at the breakdown. Is he s conscious of that? “Not really. You just have to go after it. They’ll be doing the same and we’ll all be doing the same, go hard and go 100 per cent, because that’s what it’s going to take.”

He’ll have family and friends there today, including girlfriend Jessica, and he’ll belt out Amhrán na bhFiann and Ireland’s Call . Then he’ll go hard and go 100 per cent. He has never known any other way.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.