Peter O’Mahony: ‘That bit of hurt will be there this week’
Vice-captain says Ireland need to focus on performance and not let wounds fester
Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony after Saturday’s Six Nations loss to England. “It is not something that sits well with any of us. It certainly hurt us, the last 48 hours.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.
There is not a relaxed muscle on Peter O’Mahony’s face. Angst ridden and talking of the hurt, letting people down, managing disappointment and turning it around to make it work for a better cause than self pity, there is no better man.
The blindside flanker knows Ireland’s charitable status was dismantled years ago and while O’Mahony stops short of self recrimination, this week his position as a vice-captain and leader in the Irish squad takes on board a new imperative.
It is difficult to know who has been hit hardest by the criticism pouring over the Irish performance against England. The younger names like James Ryan, Jordan Larmour and Andrew Porter, whose middle name is brio and who have been part of something historically great over the past year, or those players who have known poorer times.
It was Ryan who admitted last October that there was a ‘silver lining’ in finally shedding his unbeaten tag in professional rugby. It took 24 matches and arrived after a Grand Slam, Pro14 and Champions Cup title were safely bagged. The June Test against Australia in Brisbane last summer was his first defeat with Ireland, England last Saturday the second.
“It’s very important. You’ve been picked in a leadership role or group for a reason,” says O’Mahony. “We put a huge amount of pressure on everyone to lead at some stage. It is not something we are used to, all of a sudden, Ireland losing rugby games.
“It is not something that sits well with any of us. It certainly hurt us, the last 48 hours. That is only natural for a competitive athlete to be hurt after something like that. But you cannot let that fester.”
Although Ireland were beaten physically, O’Mahony understands the central issues of team rehabilitation are not entirely physical. The irony is that the physical performance comes from intentions and direction. It comes from willingness and need, sometimes fearlessness and always from inside.
Stripping away the tactics of the day against England, did being bullied by them hurt the most he is asked? There is a six-second silence before he answers.
“I don’t know about that,” he says with obvious distaste in his mouth. Being bullied is not a concept that has ever applied to O’Mahony and the question, put under different circumstances from those of last Saturday, would be an affront.
“You can’t be physical and you can’t be going after teams if you don’t have the ball,” he explains. “When you are going after teams and you cough up the ball, it is a big pressure release for them.
“Look, I thought England’s breakdown was very tidy,” he adds. “Sometimes you don’t get access, particularly when you are not putting time in rucks. What you don’t want to be doing is sticking your head into the wrong breakdown and suddenly your front-line is down 14 or 13 to 12 or 11. [If] there is two or three in a breakdown, that’s when you get punished.”
That’s exactly what happened. It was a modern phrasing of an old tune with bigger English men pulling Irish bodies towards the centre and leaving space out wide and in behind. “It is about making good decisions. If the breakdown was down you don’t put your head in there,” he says. That’s that.
The performance more than the score line leaves Joe Schmidt with some considerations. Ireland have not failed to win two matches in succession in the Six Nations since 2016, when the team drew 16-16 with Wales in Dublin and lost the following week 10-9 to France in Paris.
But with O’Mahony it is like throwing gasoline on the fire. Just as the flames fall, another frown, another wince of his downturned mouth and a tilt of his heads gives the awkward truths of the defeat visual expression.
“As I said already, it hurts. That bit of hurt will be there this week,” he repeats. “That has a match under it . . . when you’ve lost in front of your own crowd.
“It’s something we haven’t done in a while. These people pay huge amounts of money to come and see us. Every time we come and play at the Aviva we have it full. The last place you want to let them down is at home.”
There is never a fear factor. There is always one. But in O’Mahony’s computation he knows there are not many on the team that will escape the criticism of video analysis. There will be forced and tactical changes for Scotland. But in the bigger picture it is more about getting it right than letting the axe fall on individual players when it was a collective malfunction.
Getting dropped. Not getting dropped. Having Schmidt’s pointy stick in the back of your neck. It’s the job description, isn’t it.
The fear factor, it comes wrapped in the same package as desire and ambition. It’s the great motivator. It’s what makes CJ Stander play most of a Test match with a strange pain in his face, a fractured eye socket.
“Look, there is always a fear factor – we’ve huge fear of losing and that’s part of sport,” says O’Mahony. “If you go out next weekend worried about losing your place there’s a good chance it’s going to happen. So, we’d be more worried about being excited to put in a performance.”
Cheers lads, he says and walks out.