Tuesday 22 October 2019

'Selfish' O'Mahony determined to make his mark in captaincy

Peter O'Mahony during a British and Irish Lions press conference at the Matariki Cultural Centre in Rotorua, New Zealand. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Peter O'Mahony during a British and Irish Lions press conference at the Matariki Cultural Centre in Rotorua, New Zealand. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

If rugby captaincy was a video game, Peter O'Mahony would have now completed it. When put to him that the Lions leadership means he's skippered every team he's ever been a part of yesterday, his response was: "Yep, pretty much".

Tomorrow, he leads the tourists into battle against the Maori and Warren Gatland has said that the job is up for grabs if he plays well. There are no guarantees that Sam Warburton will be restored to the starting XV next week, nor that Alun Wyn Jones will be either; the door is open for O'Mahony to take his shot.

It's some situation for a man who found himself out of favour at Ireland all season as a result of ill-timed injuries.

Only Jamie Heaslip's back injury allowed him the opportunity to shine and now he is on the cusp of Test selection in New Zealand as part of a back-row that has caught Warren Gatland's eye.

The coach likes the 'Munster mongrel' in O'Mahony who will not be altering his normal determined leadership style for this one.

"You're playing with some of the best players in the world and the 40 guys here don't need to be screamed and roared at before a game," he said. "They know that craic, they know what they need to do. You might have two minutes, a minute before you go out on the pitch, but that'll be it.

"These guys are the ultimate professionals, the big thing for me and the lads is to worry about our performances personally and then obviously the collective is the biggest part."

Although his rise from the Ireland bench to the Lions captaincy is one that catches the imagination, naturally it's not the narrative O'Mahony subscribes to.

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"I don't know if that was fairytale stuff, I have put a lot of hard work into my career and you have got to take your opportunities when they come," he said. "Sometimes they are unfortunate for other guys but it doesn't matter, you have to be selfish. I use that word... It is not a selfish game but sometimes you have to play well when you need to play well and that day I played all right.

"It wasn't just that day I would like to say I have played some good games for Munster as well this season.

"I went through a lot - even the days when we lost, you have got to take your lessons. It wasn't just that day, there was a lot of hard work going into that not just over the last 12 months but the last few years.

"Not that I was ever meant to be here but I have worked hard and all the 41 guys who have been picked have worked hard so I can't just say it was one day."

A determined leader who is likely to assume the Ireland captaincy in the not-too-distant future, O'Mahony makes every team he plays in better and he has drawn on the qualities of those he grew up around to make him better.

"Obviously, (Paul) O'Connell was hugely influential on my career; I'm playing with him probably since I started with Munster," he said.

"He was involved in nearly all of the games I've played with Munster and Ireland and he'd a huge influence. Drico (Brian O'Driscoll) was still there when I was playing with Ireland as well, I could name lots more.

"Growing up, the Munster back-rowers even when I was playing - Wally (David Wallace) and Axel (Anthony Foley) had a huge influence on my career as well.

"It's a way maybe of paying them back for the hard work they put into me."

The set is complete but you get the impression O'Mahony is far from finished.

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