Tuesday 25 April 2017

'It would be a dream come true to become a Lion'

Barnstorming back-row still considers himself an outsider to tour but he hasn't given up hope

Peter O’Mahony can’t wait to test himself against Saracens tomorrow week Picture: Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony can’t wait to test himself against Saracens tomorrow week Picture: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Warren Gatland is set to name his Lions squad next week, but the proposed selection has been under constant scrutiny all season.

Since the start of the campaign pundits and fans have been mooting their potential touring party, but injury and other factors have meant that nothing is certain coming up the coach's decision on April 19.

Peter O'Mahony's hamstring denied him the opportunity to feature against Scotland in the Six Nations opener.

And even after his recovery, the 27-year-old Munster captain couldn't find his way into a hugely competitive Ireland back-row.

The Corkonian flanker has been one of the generals all season for Munster, driving their two-pronged assault on the Champions Cup and Guinness PRO12m but he had to wait until the final day of the Six Nations to make his mark internationally.

His late inclusion against England at Aviva Stadium caused havoc on and off the field, and he destroyed a previously unyielding English lineout with one of the best displays of his career.

That performance, coupled with his form with Munster all season, has put O'Mahony right in the frame for a Lions call up.

"You go back to what your dream is as a young fella. Having watched lots of Lions tours it would be a dream come true to go on one," he says.

"But for those dreams to happen you need to worry about your next training session. It's all about the hard work and performances you put in coming up to it.

"I was a bit unlucky with my hamstring at the start of the Six Nations and I didn't play a huge amount in it even when I was fit.

"I would certainly be a long shot, but all I can do is keep the head down, play as well as I can for the next few weeks.

"And if not, hopefully I will be lucky enough to go on a really interesting tour of the USA and Japan with Ireland.

"But if you were picked on any Lions tour it's a huge deal, it means so much to everyone involved.

"It's probably the little bit of amateur rugby that's left, and it's what makes it so special. It doesn't matter where the tour is going, it's always very special."

After his exemplary display against England, O'Mahony returned to his beloved Munster where he led his province to a memorable 41-16 success against European heavyweights Toulouse in Limerick.

"It was great to be back in Thomond Park with a home quarter-final," he says. "We haven't been in that position for a while so it was nice not to have to drag the fans all over Europe.

Important

"And when you have it back home the most important thing was to get a win, and it's great for the club to be in a semi-final now."

Munster are just 80 minutes away from a Champions Cup final in Murrayfield. It would be their first appearance in a European decider since they won their second Heineken Cup in 2008.

But standing in their way are the best team in Europe, the reigning Champions Cup and English Premiership champions, Saracens. It makes for a mouth-watering occasion at the Aviva Stadium next weekend.

"It is great to have it in an Irish venue," says O'Mahony. "When you end up in the last four you are coming up against the best in Europe. It is going to be great playing against a side of the calibre of Saracens, the in-form team in Europe over the last two or three years.

"To be able to test yourselves against guys like that is why you do what you do. They are the days you grow up dreaming of, to get into the last four in Europe."

Munster have been awesome this season, and they have captured the public's imagination with the way they responded to the loss of their former coach, leader and friend Axel Foley in October.

It's something that hits the players every day, but they have channelled their emotions in the right direction. Between the Pro12 and Europe Munster have won 18 of their 20 games since their passionate victory over Glasgow on the day after Axel's funeral.

Now they are second in the Pro12, seven points clear of third-placed Ospreys, with a home semi-final in sight. And they are also acting as hosts in their Champions Cup last-four clash with Saracens.

It makes for an interesting time for the whole organisation, with their A side facing Jersey in the final of B&I Cup later this month.

But O'Mahony is focused on the here and now, and refuses to tempt fate when he's asked if silverware is on the horizon.

"I can't answer that until the season is over," he stresses. "But we have put ourselves in a good position. We haven't won anything but if you don't have as much rugby left as we do, at this time of the year, you are not competing for trophies.

"Compared to last year we had a couple of games left, but this year we have the potential to play a lot more. It completely depends on how our next few weeks go, and how we perform in the competitions.

"The Pro12 is hugely important. We still have Ulster to come before our Champions Cup game against Saracens.

"We have some big games left and it's important for us to get wins in those games to put ourselves in the best position to get a home semi-final, which doesn't guarantee anything, but makes life that bit easier."

Irish Independent

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