Thursday 24 October 2019

O'Mahony won't bend knee to might of Toulon invaders

Dark memories will drive Reds' captain, writes David Kelly

Peter O’Mahony would not be fazed by wearing the No 7 shirt against Toulon. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony would not be fazed by wearing the No 7 shirt against Toulon. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Peter O'Mahony finally got down on bended knee in Dubai last week - but don't expect him to repeat the gesture in Limerick on Saturday.

Fiancée Jessica Moloney expressed her relief when the Grand Slam winner popped the question: "I thought his knee would never bend."

But, if she might have satisfied her longing for something sparkling to celebrate the couple's lasting commitment, O'Mahony's focus has immediately switched from his private life to his profession.

For he, too, is desperately seeking some silverware to crown his own loyalty to Munster; eight years in red has produced a solitary Celtic League winner's medal.

In the eight years before that, Munster ruled Europe twice as well as winning a further Celtic League and a Celtic Cup.

Fresh from a Grand Slam with Ireland, he is eager to ensure that his decision to remain with Munster - not a difficult one, admittedly - can be franked by success with the province.

"Unfortunately, the bad memories are always the ones that stick out, and you always have a little bit of fear driving you on," says the 28-year-old.

Flashback "Not that you'll sit down and think about it, but you'll get a flashback and they're not feelings you want to have again.

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"Certainly they affect you as you go on through your career, the ones that you've left behind you and the ones that you've been beaten up in as well.

"That's part of being an elderly fella who has played a few times in the knockout stages and been beaten. You don't want to be back there again.

"All the ones you have lost in Europe, they all hurt for a long, long time after. They probably shouldn't. But in this game they do because it is what you are here for. We have to use that hurt."

Deep down, even the rabid home support are unsure of what might unfold this weekend; Toulon's potential to wreak havoc is well-publicised.

Munster, it would seem, are not capable of standing in the middle of the ring, on the front foot, forcing their foes upon the ropes.

But, to borrow from the famed 'Toreador Song' that will usher them into combat, their limitless levels of brain and brawn, dappled with occasional bursts of skill, can give them much more than a sporting chance.

And so, while they may not be able to play the game on their own terms, the one sure thing is that they cannot hope to progress should they be cowed into engaging on Toulon's. The smaller dog can prevail once they have the larger fight.

"We have got to bring a huge physicality, a big part of Toulon and a lot of these French teams, is that they beat you up. It is hard to stop. We played Racing over there. Two tries, 14 points later, and we kind of felt, 'What hit us?' I mean it was relentless stuff. And it is difficult to stop.

"So if I was going to pick one thing, it would be to stop their momentum. That is certainly easier said than done. You try and stop them at source, by going after their set-piece. It is not like I am giving away big parts of what we have to do.

"We go after set-piece, their momentum-givers, breakdown we have to be immaculate and our discipline has to be incredible. We are going to be under the pump at times and we have got to be squeaky clean when it comes to this, because they will chip away at us as well.

"You probably cannot go after them head on, you know what I mean. It is not like we have the size to really take them on like that but you have got to be physical.

"That is not saying you cannot shy away from it. You have got to go hard. But be smarter about it."

O'Mahony may have to don an unfamiliar seven shirt - "I would be well able" - but, if his side combine accuracy with physicality, they should expect themselves to limit Toulon's ability to dominate on the ball.

Munster's plan of campaign may be debilitated by injury - an issue which O'Mahony will wave away with characteristic derision - but the fact remains that they should be relatively well-resourced in terms of the starting pack they put on the field without over-burdening the experienced pack leaders.

"I'm not conscious of that to be honest with you," he responds when asked if the pressure on his shoulders will ramp up.

"I am really focused on playing well this week. I am not going to go and try and consciously play like a seven if that is what you are asking.

"You have got to go and try and play as best you can at the weekend. If you are thinking about doing different things because you are missing x or y then you are going to be off-task.

"The 22 or 23 who are lucky enough to be picked, you need guys playing the best game of their year on Saturday to have a shot at winning.

"Their strengths, it is probably as hard to pick a weakness in them.

Household "Their pack have the ability to beat teams up and their backs have probably even more of an ability to beat teams up.

"Guys like Josua Tuisova, Malakai Fekitoa and Mathieu Bastareaud, you are naming household names across the board. The go-forward ball that Bastareaud gives them makes them difficult to stop.

"Injuries are not something that you can influence from a playing performance point of view. You can't let it affect your mind or your game.

"It's the nature of the game. You're not dealing from a full deck any more. You've always got a certain amount of injuries. I'm not going to sit here and moan about it.

"It happens lots of squads and we just have to get on with it. There's lots of guys who will be banging on the coach's door for the last couple of months saying, 'I want to play'."

"Well, this is their chance." There aren't many of them.

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