'A game like that gives you an extra push to get involved' - Ronan O'Mahony
Eight years on from famous Thomond night, Limerick speedster is excited by Maori clash
Published 11/11/2016 | 02:30
The experience of being in Thomond Park when Munster last faced the All Blacks was enough to show Ronan O'Mahony that professional rugby was the career for him.
He was just 19 when the most famous brand in rugby rolled into Limerick, and only left with a last-ditch 18-16 victory over their hosts.
It was the match that crowned the reopening of Thomond Park, after its reconstruction, and now eight years down the road, the Maori All Blacks clash with a Munster side on-form and ready to tear up the script.
Since the loss of their great friend and mentor, Anthony Foley, the Munster players have turned everything up a few notches. They are a different beast in recent games, and highly-impressive wins against Glasgow, Ulster and Ospreys followed.
And with another sold-out home venue to look forward to, this evening's game could resemble something very similar to the raucous atmosphere of the All Blacks fixture from 2008.
"It will be a full house in Thomond Park, and there is no such thing as a friendly," says O'Mahony.
"The Maori had a huge win against USA last weekend. They won't be a pushover by any stretch of the imagination and we know what's coming."
The 27-year-old Limerick winger has been in scintillating form recently and scored a try in Munster's exquisite 33-0 bonus-point win over Ospreys last weekend.
But he would not be in this situation today were it not for his father Gerry, who got him two tickets for the All Blacks game all those years ago.
Ronan wasn't involved in Munster Rugby at the time, but along with his school friend Mark, he got to experience what it was like when the Munster faithful packed out the famous stadium.
"I remember I got a ticket, my father got two tickets so myself and one of my friends went. We were in the terrace and it was a last-minute thing.
"I just remember the noise, I had never experienced anything like it. When Munster stood out to do the Haka it was amazing.
"I wasn't involved at Munster at that stage, and when a young lad sees a game like that it gives you an extra push. It makes you think that this is something really special, and you want to be involved in it in the future."
But O'Mahony is involved and the Garryowen clubman is one of the best wingers at the province.
He has scored two tries in eight appearances this season, and 11 tries in 51 caps for his Munster career so far.
But he is cognisant of how things have become that bit more real for the province recently. And he knows they need to build on the momentum that the players have chalked up.
"Running out for the warm-up against Glasgow in the Champions Cup after that tough week, the stand was already full and the noise gave the team such a lift.
"We as players appreciate it so much. Munster goes far beyond the 15 playing and the subs and the management. It's a family environment and everyone is involved from the fans to the guys playing on the field.
"After the Glasgow game we came from 14-0 down to beat Ulster and then to get a good performance against Ospreys as well has put us in a great place. But we won't fall in love with ourselves. There are still a lot of things we need to work on.
"We are doing good analysis and we are always looking to improve and become better players and a better team."
Munster are top of Pool 1 in the Champions Cup, despite having only played one game, and they are second in the Pro12.
"It all came from the Glasgow game, there was a huge emotion attached. I said it after the game, Axel isn't with us physically but he will be emotionally.
"Lads are really buying into the system and buying into their roles. The lads coming in, Jacques Nienaber and Rassie, they are refreshing. They are bringing their own things, and with Felix and Jerry there too everyone is buying into the game plan.
"We got a bonus point last weekend, but our defence was up there too and we are trying to suck the life out of teams with our line-speed."
And in the week following Ireland's first ever success against the world champions, the All Blacks, confidence is high in the provinces, especially Munster where they had some of the leading contributors at Soldier Field.
"It was incredible to watch. It was insane, all of the boys, especially the Munster guys, they did really well.
"Conor Murray was hands down man of the match for me. Zebo, CJ Stander, Donnacha Ryan, they all did incredibly well and we are unbelievably proud of them."
And O'Mahony sees a future for himself in the green Ireland jersey too, but he knows he must perform for Munster more consistently, if he wants to get there.
"I have had a lot of opportunities and been involved in the squad a lot this season.
"I am pleased with the way I played against the Ospreys and I was on the ball a bit more than other games. I am growing into the game plan a bit more now too.
"First and foremost you have to perform for your club, that's what I want to do. I want to be a go to player for Munster. That's my main aim and my childhood dream to play for Ireland is always there.
"But I have to look after my own game for Munster and if that comes that comes."