Tuesday 25 April 2017

'You don't belong in a quarter-final, you've to work bloody hard for it' - O'Mahony relishing return to big time

Peter O’Mahony is relishing being back among Europe’s elite. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony is relishing being back among Europe’s elite. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

For so long, European quarter-final weekend was inked into the Munster calendar from a long way out. They never made it easy, but they always got there in the end.

An avid fan growing up, Peter O'Mahony knew what the first few weeks in April represented and made the pilgrimage to Thomond Park and beyond to support his team.

Now the province's captain, he has a direct role to play but for the past two seasons he and his team-mates have had to watch on from the margins as the Champions Cup went on without them.

This week, they are back in the knockout stages for the first time since 2014 and while there is plenty of distracting news around the place, the players are fully focused on Toulouse and the task at hand.

After two seasons out of the business end of the European season, O'Mahony is determined to make up for lost time.

"Tough, it was tough to watch," he said of the 2015 and 2016 quarter-finals. "They're the games you grow up wanting to play in and then even more so when you become a professional rugby player, especially for the club you've always wanted to play for.

"They're even more so the games you want to be playing in then. To sit them out is tough.

"It's nice even when you break for the Six Nations, you leave knowing there's something to come back for and to look forward to. It's always there.

"Obviously you're on a different wavelength, but in the back of your head when you've a minute you can look forward to it and that's a great way to be."

In many ways, this is where an outfit like Munster belong but missing out in the last two seasons has taught them not to take anything for granted in these parts.

"You don't belong in a quarter-final. You've got to work bloody hard for it, and I think that's what we've done, but we've got another big week now to work hard and it doesn't really matter if you lose the weekend before," O'Mahony insisted.

"It's knockout rugby. It's game over if you lose, and then it's all for nothing.

"It is a great to have a game back, but these are the games you want to be involved in because you want to remember them for good reasons, and that's what we have to prepare for this week."

While many of his international colleagues were given last week off to recuperate after the Six Nations, O'Mahony got a day's break before plunging himself back into the province and got 80 minutes of action under his belt against Zebre in Parma.

It was quite a change of scenery after leading Ireland's charge against England at a packed-out Aviva Stadium a week previously, but he was happy to put his hand up.

After coming into the Six Nations with a hamstring injury, he got the late call when Jamie Heaslip's back injury flared up in the warm-up and produced a man of the match display.

"Before England, I'd 29 minutes of rugby in seven weeks like, so I'm just trying to get a bit of minutes under me at the weekend," he said.

"It was great to get back in (against England), I hadn't had a huge amount of game-time and it was great to get 80 minutes back in the Six Nations again. It's a great competition.

"I was delighted to be able to come in and do a job, that's what you're there for. You've got to be prepared, ready to go to play 80 minutes and I was there to do that and I enjoyed it.

"I was fairly well blowing but I did enjoy it. In a strange way it's easy (to get a late call-up), because we put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves to be ready to go early on and to make an impact.

"When you only have four or five minutes in a dressing-room to hear that you're starting, that's the only period you can really think or worry about it.

"Once the whistle goes and we kick off, you're into it and you're thinking about nothing other than the phases you're in. So, it's almost handier to be honest."

That performance served as a reminder of O'Mahony's Lions credentials and another similar display against Toulouse would do him no harm at all.

Yet he believes he has more work to do to get back to the levels of performance he was at before he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament against France at the 2015 World Cup.

"I've still a bit to go, I'd say it's two years before your knee is back feeling normal again," he said.

"It doesn't feel like the other one, but it's getting there.

"I'm still tipping away, I've loads of rehab and prehab to do always, I keep on top of it and I'll probably have that for the rest of my career. It's feeling good.

"It just doesn't feel like the other one, I haven't damaged the other one - touch wood - but it's funny then when you get a little niggle like I did at the start of the Six Nations, every other ache goes away other than your hamstring.

"It's probably in your head, a lot of it, it's probably something I've to learn to deal with a bit better, the brain side of things rather than the body which is probably fine. I've to get on with it."

The Zebre game and preparation helped reacclimatise him to the Munster way as he switched from the Irish systems and language back into the province's way of doing things.

"They're quite different but in both scenarios they've been there for a long time. It shouldn't be that hard once you pick it up and get the ball rolling. It's stuff you've done before, a lot of it, so it's second nature once you get back into it," he said.

"It's a bit of a challenge, we'll put ourselves under huge pressure this week to get three good days of training done.

"We certainly won't be winging it, we'll put a lot of detail in this week. Guys will be coming in after a week off and they'll be fresh. We'll be looking for them to drive it.

"Guys who have got their first experience of international rugby now are driving it, we've had more guys in national camp who can drive that intensity and professionalism so it's great.

"The guys that were here have put guys under pressure who are coming back so it's a healthy place for the squad to be in.

"It's a week now, we've to put ourselves under pressure to get things right and get our detail right and put in a big performance against a massively physical, big team."

Irish Independent

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