Foley hails new boys O'Mahony and Ryan for stamping their own mark
As an impromptu game of Gaelic football broke out at Ireland's training camp yesterday -- refereed by Dublin's All-Ireland-winning captain Bryan Cullen, of course -- Peter O'Mahony partook with a zany zeal mirroring his first Six Nations start.
In a week when Ireland could have withdrawn into their shell given the enormous leadership vacuum created by the absence of two successive Lions captains, the emergence of such composed performers as O'Mahony and Munster colleague Donnacha Ryan was timely in its significance.
"Rory Best hasn't captained the side in a while and what he needs is not to be worrying about every player in the pack," said stand-in assistant coach Anthony Foley yesterday.
"I think the boys got on with their jobs very well. They took a lot of the pressure off Rory; Donnacha with his role in the line-out and Peter with his carrying and doing his bit of work around the breakdown.
"That alone -- by you doing your job -- takes a lot of the pressure off the captain, so he can concentrate on his own job of making decisions on the pitch."
O'Mahony seemed to take it all in his stride -- already he speaks in that languid air of the archetypal grizzled Munster forward -- yet even he found it impossible to conceal the emotion wrapped around his first Six Nations start.
"Yeah, you would be feeling the first few minutes," he said softly. "It's the whole occasion. The morning is quite stressful but then the warm-up was good, I felt fine after it.
"The first 10 minutes went quite quickly because the ball wasn't out of play for long periods and we were defending a lot as well. We were on the back foot, so it was tiring but it was great. It was a great experience. I felt my way into the game and it was good."
Once he found his racing feet, the colt bolted from the starting tape like an established thoroughbred, winning two key turnovers and attacking the breakdown intelligently.
Pedants will argue that he wasn't always there first but, like Sean O'Brien the previous week, his decision-making and physicality were influential, as in the brilliant 55th-minute steal after Jamie Heaslip's initial tackle.
As he trained yesterday, the sight of Sean O'Brien emerging from his hospital bed after his foot infection had fully healed reminded him of the competition he now faces to maintain his rate of progress in an Irish shirt.
"I'd like to play No 7," O'Mahony said when pressed, before checking himself. "If I'm picked... I'll play in the front-row if I have to, once I'm picked. I'm sure any other player will tell you that once he gets picked he's happy out, but I'd like to learn more at No 7.
"I'm not quite there yet, obviously. I don't think anyone is, but I'm learning and I'm enjoying No 7. But I'll play No 6 or No 8 as well, I'm enjoying them as well."
The two imposing newcomers who shone so brightly for Ireland last weekend seem admirably unruffled.
Hence Foley's description of O'Mahony's Munster colleague Ryan, at once suitably glowing and grounded.
"He didn't really fill Paul O'Connell's boots," Foley said. "He filled his own boots and he made his own calls and he backed himself to the highest degree and made sure it was a Donnacha Ryan performance. People can start looking at Donnacha Ryan and saying that's what expect out of him.
"But he's not a shadow of somebody else. He's a Tipperary hurler that goes around with ankle socks at times! He's a bit different and he carries himself very well. He's a fella that guys can go to, he has a good maturity about him."
O'Mahony -- perhaps betraying his Cork lineage -- is also determined to be his own man, such that he eschews any elaborate discussion on any supposed influences.
"Not particularly," he deflects when asked would, say, fetcher-par-excellence Richie McCaw present a benchmark.
"Obviously you'd look at videos of some of these guys and see what they do and if you can pick up some good traits. But not particularly any one of them, obviously you'd like to have some traits from all of them.
"But Anthony makes a good point about Donnacha: he's his own man. I'd like to think that I'll set out my stall to being a different type of player."
Different and determined.