Monday 27 March 2017

Peter O'Mahony: Ronan O'Gara key man in our European conquests

Andrew Trimble, John Muldoon, Isa Nacewa and Peter O’Mahony feel the breeze coming up the River Liffey as they prepare for the photographs at yesterday’s launch of the Champions Cup at Spencer Dock in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Andrew Trimble, John Muldoon, Isa Nacewa and Peter O’Mahony feel the breeze coming up the River Liffey as they prepare for the photographs at yesterday’s launch of the Champions Cup at Spencer Dock in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Perspective must shape how a reunion can make somebody feel.

And so it was, as two sons of Cork eyed with intrigue last summer's Champions Cup draw, one pairing leaped from their screens and made their hearts hop.

Munster v Racing 92.

Peter O'Mahony, indulging the last few agonising days and hours of a virtually year-long rehabilitation from a devastating knee injury, smiled grimly.

Ronan O'Gara, sitting at home in a banlieue north of Paris, grimaced stiltedly.

O'Mahony, we assume, couldn't wait for it to happen; O'Gara, we presume, would rather it didn't.

The champions of France have already issued vivid descriptions of how their assistant coach - once a Munster legend, a man so pivotal in forging their European identity - feels somehow betrayed at having to face his former friends, now as a foe.

O'Mahony, who at times, perhaps, never thought he might be in a state to face friend or foe, any time or anywhere, given his terrific battle with the knee injury that ended his World Cup a year ago.

He, who will be just relieved to take the field in ten days' time, felt differently

"The last while has taught me not to ever again take things for granted," says O'Mahony. "When you're in the starting 15 week in and week out and you're playing consistently, you almost take not only the games, but going out training for granted.

"What I found the hardest was being on my own training and I loved getting back with the group, just getting onto the pitch and lacing the boots and going out doing a warm-up with the squad.

Moments

"That just put a smile on my face and that's what I'm going to try to do over the next few weeks and few months and few years."

O'Mahony's European debut coincided with arguably one of the finest of so many O'Gara moments in red; the culmination to those extraordinary 41 phases against Northampton Saints five years ago when the golden boot struck gold, one more time, for his team.

O'Gara retired with Munster having failed to add to their two European titles. Now, O'Mahony, 27, and the bedrock of this Munster pack, is charged with the responsibility of helping a new generation carry the torch throughout the continent.

"He is probably one of the reasons why I'm sitting here, why the club is where it is competing in Europe," says O'Mahony.

"The history we have, he had a big part to play in it. We certainly wouldn't take anything away from what he has done. He's an incredible competitor, he gave you confidence just being around him when you were on the pitch with him - making decisions, putting the ball in front of you.

"He was a pleasure to play with, a pleasure to be around, not just on the pitch but off it as well. He would have an insight into us alright.

"At the end of the day, he can give them an insight into what his group were about and what they stood for which is a huge part of what we stand for."

History and the present may collide in Paris but O'Mahony only sees the future.

"We've a different group. We have a younger group, one that wants to stamp their authority on the Munster jersey over the next three or four years.

"We take a huge amount from our history. It is important to us. But we're going in a different direction and we want to make it our own direction."

O'Gara will, O'Mahony is convinced, retain a similarly steely determination; such attributes drove him on the playing field and the Irish flanker sees no reason for that attitude to change now.

"Rog will always have Munster in his heart, he'll tell you that himself. He's a Munster man, a Cork man, through and through.

"But he's a massive competitor and has been all his career, so he'll be conducting his business trying to go about beating Munster next week.

"That's his job now, that's what puts bread on the table for his family. That's what is important to him now. He's been around us for a long time but he'll want his side to win."

O'Mahony has been impressed at the impact O'Gara has wrought on the Racing side, culminating in last season's title win alongside head coach Bernard Labit.

"He's been very impressive. He has a huge amount of experience now and he's obviously amongst a bunch of very experienced players as well who can learn a huge amount off him.

"And the staff are clearly bouncing of each other as well so it was a brilliant move for him and he's doing really well, which is great for him."

For 80 minutes, the mutual admiration that exists between these two fine Munster captains of past and present will be stilled by the intensity of combat.

"I haven't been in touch with him at all," admits O'Mahony. "I'll leave all that until afterwards."

Too much work to be done.

Irish Independent

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