Friday 24 November 2017

Now another product of Cork Con takes place among greats

Peter O’Mahony shouts at his teammates during the match between the Maori All Blacks and the Lions in Rotorua on Saturday. Picture: Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony shouts at his teammates during the match between the Maori All Blacks and the Lions in Rotorua on Saturday. Picture: Sportsfile

Gareth Morgan and Kate Rowan

It might seem a long way from Cork Con to captaining the Lions. But Peter O'Mahony will be following in the footsteps of no less than three alumni when he leads the team against the All Blacks on Saturday.

Noel Murphy, Tommy Kiernan and Donal Lenihan have all captained touring Lions sides, all products of the club's proud history.

O'Mahony has a long and storied history with Con himself - having first hacked a rugby ball around aged three, thanks to his father John's connection with the club.

Now the 27-year-old will become the 11th Irishman to captain the Lions in a Test match after he was selected ahead of Sam Warburton.

O'Mahony is one of four Irish players selected by Lions head coach Warren Gatland. Famous rugby names past and present were swift to send their congratulations.

"What a brilliant achievement to captain the Lions this weekend," tweeted Brian O'Driscoll.

But nowhere will the celebrations be louder than in Cork, where Con is celebrating its 125th year.

Brian Hickey, former Munster forwards coach and coaching Con from 2009, remembers O'Mahony as a toddler. He said: "I would have first taken serious notice of him at a schools' game. He was playing for Pres. Even when he was a 16 year-old, what I found remarkable from watching him was that he was playing with guys his elder yet he was calling the line-out.

"I remember in his very first game at Munster that he played with Paul O'Connell and he went to clear out a ruck. I just thought he feels he needs to announce himself at any stage he steps up to."

Hickey believes the tragic passing of Munster coach Anthony Foley last October prepared O'Mahony for captaining the Lions.

"Off the pitch, I would have thought his ability to be a Lion really came home in and around the time of Anthony Foley's death.

"As a player but particularly as a talisman of the group and captain, he showed incredible maturity in those weeks."

Veteran scrum-half Peter Stringer describes O'Mahony as a reserved character who chooses his moments to speak.

"It is a mark of the guy - in many ways, he reminds me of Paul O'Connell - in how he has this calming nature about him but when you get to that training environment and playing the game, he has got this switch. You can almost see in his eyes that he means business."

O'Mahony missed most of the Six Nations and was not even due to start against England until injury during the warm-up forced the late withdrawal of Jamie Heaslip.

Helping derail the English chariot that day started his incredible journey to Eden Park and the All Blacks showdown.

Irish Independent

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