Peter O’Mahony focused on Munster but Lions tour looms large
Season’s work with province far from done but selection for All Blacks trip an honour
Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony are two of Ireland’s healthy representation in next month’s Lions tour to New Zealand. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
It’s rugby’s version of Christmas morning in London, administration day for the Lions tour to New Zealand, the essence of which is receiving enough kit and caboodle to clothe a team never mind an individual.
The entire Lions playing squad and the 30-plus strong coaching, logistical and administrative team are attending meetings, fulfilling commercial commitments and squeezing in some media work; a carousel of grip and grin.
In the case of the coaching and backroom team, they have to stand before the group and introduce themselves, complete with a little backstory. A shoeless Paddy “Rala” O’Reilly, on his third tour as bagman, steals the show, at least time-wise.
Peter O’Mahony is part of the Land Rover troupe, one of the Lions sponsors, spending a couple of hours on the public relations equivalent of a waterpark’s “lazy river” – a slow meander through photographic and broadcasting liaisons, before unfurling himself into a chair in the late afternoon.
He doesn’t clarify whether he’s slightly bemused by the whole process but the sheer scale of the Lions production dwarfs any previous rugby experience.
Apart from the day of the Lions squad announcement, O’Mahony hasn’t had an opportunity to dwell on the honour.
Munster’s pursuit of Champions Cup glory that ended with a semi-final defeat to Saracens and their on-going quest for Guinness Pro12 silverware is his short-term preoccupation.
He explained: “Obviously Munster mean a huge amount to me and for us to be back winning silverware is very important for me. That will be my focus over the next three weeks.
“It is very difficult [to be single-minded at times] because it is such a big deal to be picked for the Lions, such a big honour. Guys are coming up to you in the street, you’re thankful for that but still realise that you have some big matches before [you go to New Zealand].
“Guys have been selected and got injured before they left so you don’t want to get ahead of yourself and jinx it. Hopefully I still have two games left, big ones for the club. It is important that we get stuck in there and fingers crossed I stay injury free and make the plane.”
His earliest Lions memory revolves around the 1997 tour to South Africa. He wore out the tape and could recite passages verbatim. The 2001 tour to Australia carried more rugby-centric memories in terms of matches, his favourite the first test, a game the Lions won.
He name-checks the red-clad Scott Quinnell and Brian O’Driscoll as players that captured his young imagination. He learned of his call-up via the Munster medical team, thumbs up across a pitch, as there was a commitment that training ahead of the Saracens match would not be compromised by the announcement.
Briefly he allowed himself to dwell on what it meant to be a Lion. “It’s a huge responsibility, a huge honour to get picked for the Lions and you have to act accordingly, wear the jersey with pride.
“There is a huge amount that goes with the jersey that you now have responsibility for so it is very important to know that and carry yourself in an appropriate way.”
In trying to put it in context he told a story about one of his first days in the Munster academy. “I remember the academy manager saying ‘there are 28 of you in the room, if we get two of you out of this room to play Heineken Cup rugby we will be doing well.’ That puts it in perspective of how far you have to travel in your rugby career to be a Lion.”
He has a more recent counterpoint. The personal journey he’s made from crippling injury during the 2015 Rugby World Cup that sidelined until October of 2016, to the tragic death of Munster head coach Anthony Foley, would have sundered a person of lesser character.
What it did do was change him as a person. It also gave him a chance to do more gardening, something he loves. He’s a bit of a “neat freak” too. “Yeah definitely, since October. I would just say that I have taught myself to enjoy what I am doing more, be very grateful for what I have, the guys I have around me and what I have outside of rugby.
“I had some good guys looking after me when I was out (injured) and we talked about lots; a lot of what they said I took on board and it stood to me over the last six or eight months since I have been back.
“You have to put everything into perspective, got to be grateful for playing and being surrounded by the guys that you enjoy playing for; it’s important to accept that.
“It’s been an emotional year in losing Axel [Anthony Foley]. [I have] fought some battles with good guys, guys who stood up and took responsibility. There is that emotional side to the year that’s been difficult.
“There is a satisfaction that I have been picked. I have got to the stage now where I am starting to enjoy the week rather than just the hour and a half, two hours after games.
“I’m enjoying the preparation. I am privileged to play for the teams that I do; sometimes you get cross with things or get upset but you come to realise [as you get older] that they are trivial and how lucky you are.”
When you consider the relatively curtailed opportunity in terms of game time at test level he’s had compared to others to present a compelling argument to make the Lions, his success in doing so is a remarkable achievement.
He has spoken to a few people about what lies ahead, stored the information but for the next three weeks there is no rugby beyond Munster. “I have had a couple of chats with guys who have toured who were Lions and asked them for some advice, the best way to go about things.”
That’ll keep for now.