Sunday 22 October 2017

'The lads are being very professional about the changeover' - Peter O'Mahony

Peter O’Mahony believes that there are exciting times ahead for Munster. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony believes that there are exciting times ahead for Munster. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Wearing the British & Irish Lions jersey is the lifetime ambition for most professional rugby players in this part of the world, but captaining the team in New Zealand in the first Test against the All Blacks is on a completely different level.

Munster skipper Peter O'Mahony had the honour when he led the team out at Eden Park on June 24, and despite not making an appearance on the tour after that, the 28-year-old learned so much during the summer.

It was a fatiguing adventure for the touring party but they got to experience a different way of life for a couple of months, and the on-field competition with their New Zealand counterparts will go down in history.

O'Mahony went to New Zealand with 40 Ireland caps under his belt, and 91 appearances for his home province, dating back to his debut in 2009-'10 but his first British & Irish Lions tour was a special personal journey.

"It was an incredible experience. You learn a huge amount. You are playing alongside some of the best players in the world and you get a great experience.

"Touring is one of the best parts of rugby and touring with the Lions is hugely special. The group of players that we had were special as well so it was a very enjoyable tour," says O'Mahony.

"It was a huge honour to captain the team for the first Test, not many people get to play for the Lions and only a handful of them get to captain a Test team. It's something that will stay with me for the rest of my career and the rest of my life. It is something that I am hugely proud of and honoured to have done.

"Obviously you want to play as much as you can when you are out there. Naturally, you are going to be disappointed with it when you are not selected but that's part and parcel of rugby."

The Corkonian returned to Ireland rejuvenated and ready to hit the ground running in a pivotal season for Munster Rugby.

Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus had announced his intention to leave Limerick before the New Year and the club captain had to stand up and make an impression in pre-season.

The 2017-'18 season has started brightly for the province, and despite a wobble away to Glasgow Warriors in Scotstoun, Munster are back firing and O'Mahony is thrilled to be back out on the pitch.

"I was doing a lot of pre-season work over the last few weeks and there was no carrot at the end of the week. The game is what you really enjoy. It's nice to get back and get some game-time under my belt," says O'Mahony.

Different

"I had a shorter pre-season than I normally had. I would have preferred a bit longer to get a bit of training under my belt. That's the joys of it being a Lions year. We ran over, there was an extra considerable amount of time playing rugby at the end of last season. But it's part of it and that's the way it goes.

"It's a little bit different this time because you are doing your own personal training and you are doing your pre-season. But you have a team preparing for a game at the weekend all around you.

"You are trying to help them prepare the best they can for the Saturday. And you are trying to get the benefit of getting your training done as well and improving your game which is so important at this time of the year.

"The next few weeks are so important from a Munster point of view. I love playing in Europe but we have a PRO14 game against Leinster coming up and that will take all of our attention at the moment."

The time is winding down on Erasmus' stay at Munster and despite the seismic effort he has put in, the province will need to push on and thrive under his successor straight away.

"Rassie is a very professional person, a very professional coach. He is very knowledgeable with a huge amount of experience. He will proud of what he has done and where he will leave us when he does leave. I have enjoyed playing under him and being coached by him," says O'Mahony.

"But the lads are being very professional about the changeover. They are coaching as they were last year.

"You wouldn't know there was anything different going on in and around the club, so they are being completely professional about all of it."

And from the British & Irish Lions to Munster, and then on to Ireland, O'Mahony will be one of the main men Joe Schmidt looks to next month when Ireland take on South Africa, Fiji and Argentina.

It's exciting times too at national level as players like Connacht centre Bundee Aki and Munster out-half Tyler Bleyendaal are filtered into the ranks.

But O'Mahony says it will be business as usual when training camp comes around as the squad look to improve on their world No 3 ranking.

"It's exciting, there's always new guys coming in, young exciting players, pushing the competitive aspect of that squad. That's never going to change. As a country, we produce some incredible players," says O'Mahony.

"There are young guys coming through over the last 18 months, like Rory Scannell, Jack O'Donoghue, Niall Scannell getting capped, guys like Joey Carbery and Garry Ringrose.

"They are young and fresh and great guys to be able to bring into a squad and freshen things up. And ready to drive on the competitive side of selection, to push guys for Test places."

Irish Independent

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