Thursday 23 November 2017

'There is nothing much else I can do apart from being thrown out of the house for shouting and roaring'

Munster back-row has renewed perspective as he prepares for Irish comeback after a year's absence

Peter O’Mahony admits it was tough to watch Ireland from the sidelines over the past 12 months. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony admits it was tough to watch Ireland from the sidelines over the past 12 months. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

There has been just as much emphasis within the Irish camp this week on those who were not in Chicago than those who were.

The injured and infirm could at least claim merely cruel luck to be their foes; those who genuinely missed out on selection could arguably mine deeper for a more feral response.

Then again, when life has the capacity to inflict much more harsher blows, missing a game of ball sometimes doesn't mean all that much in the end.

"It is a game at the end of the day," says Peter O'Mahony who, nevertheless, when he faces Canada this weekend - probably as captain - will treat his 36th Ireland cap as if it were his first and last and all the rest in between.

He watched the events from afar on Saturday from within the intimate surroundings of his young Cork family's sitting-room.

"You can watch it as a fan," he recalls. "At that stage, you have done all you can to prepare the lads.

5 November 2016; Conor Murray of Ireland is congratulated by team-mate Simon Zebo, right, after scoring their side's third try against New Zealand during the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
5 November 2016; Conor Murray of Ireland is congratulated by team-mate Simon Zebo, right, after scoring their side's third try against New Zealand during the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"There is nothing much else I can do apart from being thrown out of the house for shouting and roaring…!"

He so wanted to be with them; after falling on his shield during the World Cup win against France, it would have seemed timely for his reappearance to coincide with another epic.

And yet, a bit like his wounded back-row colleague Seán O'Brien, the timing of his recovery was not pacey enough to chime with Joe Schmidt's planning; the Irish coach's long-term strategy demanded 100pc readiness.

"It takes a couple of hours to process," he says of the moment when Schmidt told him he was surplus to his requirements. This time, at least.

"But you trust in your squad and in the staff and all the people looking after you, there are reasons behind it.

"You always hope that the Chicago game can be there for you as a target. But you have to have complete faith in the people looking after you and that's it. You just get on with it.

Josh van der Flier, left, and Joey Carbery of Ireland celebrate after the International against New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago, USA
Josh van der Flier, left, and Joey Carbery of Ireland celebrate after the International against New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago, USA

"It was nice to be able to be with the lads during the week, to prepare them for the game at the weekend and then support them on Saturday. And now I'm glad to be in here this week for the next game."

Hence, O'Mahony was in Cork last Friday as Munster racked up their third successive win in all competitions, before settling down a day later to watch his distant friends.

All the while, an absent one was rarely far from his thoughts. Like everyone else, he hadn't expected the pre-match salute to Anthony Foley. "It was very special and very proud to see the lads do that," he agrees.

He watches games with a different perspective now. "Yeah, of course. It would be silly to say otherwise. It puts a lot of things in perspective.

"Look, it had a big impact on everyone but it was special to see the way that the guys reacted at the weekend with what they did before the game and what guys have done, and not just for Munster but the other provinces the last few weeks.

"It has been very humbling to see and good to see that outside of your professional battles there is a huge amount of professional respect there between provinces and guys who come into this squad."

All of which undoubtedly helped salve any personal wounds that may have lingered following his omission.

Ireland players, including captain Rory Best, centre, face the New Zealand 'Haka' ahead of the international rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago
Ireland players, including captain Rory Best, centre, face the New Zealand 'Haka' ahead of the international rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago

"You're still a rugby player and you want to be involved as much as you can, especially on occasions like that," he concedes.

"That's just it. I don't look back at it thinking, 'Oh, I could have won that line-out' or, 'I could have cleared that ruck'. That's not the way you look at it.

"You do the best you can during the week to prepare the guys when you are told and again when you are performing for Munster. You do your recovery then and you move on.

"It's a brutal thing almost with rugby that you have an occasion like that and then there's guys back training today. There is a line in the sand.

"It's not like it's never happened to you in your career. I've had big wins before and then you have 12 or 24 hours to think about it and then it's done."

There is at the very least another even more enticing opportunity looming on Saturday week, when he will hope to be part of a squad seeking to back up their belated maiden success against the All Blacks.

"It didn't come into my head," he demurs, his focus merely on the next challenge. "It came into my head afterwards that I'd love to be involved this week now and put my best foot forward.

"I haven't played for Ireland since France in the World Cup so I have missed a lot of big occasions.

"It's tough to watch all of them so for me fingers crossed if I can get involved in the squad it could be the best thing that could happen to me this week.

"A win like that does wonders for confidence but it is something that we always pride ourselves on, the fact you have to move on. It's almost ruthless.

"It's not like the amateur days when you could go ten days on the beer after a win like that.

"There are a lot of guys involved the last day who will probably be involved the next day.

"They have to put all their jet-lag and stuff behind them and start looking at Canada."

Even if he doesn't captain the side announced later today, his role will be vitally important in ensuring the dizzying standards set last weekend now become a template, regardless of the opposition.

"You can't take all this for granted and I don't. It's too special to take for granted. Just to play for your country, to represent Ireland.

"For those guys last weekend, it was such a proud day to be a representative of your country, to play for Ireland and it was especially proud last Saturday.

"I am always a proud Irishman and they are the days you want to be involved in. Whether you are beating the All Blacks or making your debut against Canada, they are all special in their own way.

"And certainly it is not something I take for granted."

Life, and death, has revealed this to him so starkly of late.

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