'Axel has had to go from square one and build me up'
Back-row working hard with coaches to make the most of second shot at glory
The British and Irish Cup holds some pretty special memories for Barry O'Mahony. After being confined to the All-Ireland League for a couple of seasons and resurrecting his form with his adopted club Clontarf, O'Mahony made his Munster comeback in the competition against Leinster 'A' back in 2011 and eventually picked up a winners' medal that year.
It has given him a second chance at forging his reputation in the red shirt and he is determined to take it.
A graduate of the Munster academy, flanker O'Mahony was a little unfortunate to emerge from the province's system at a time when the back-row was decorated with Irish internationals, Munster centurions and hard-nosed warriors. What chance had he of getting the nod ahead of Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Alan Quinlan and Anthony Foley?
But while misfortune has been thrust upon many of his experienced peers, O'Mahony is making the most of his second stint with the Reds.
"I'm very happy with the way my game is going since I came back to Munster," he says. "Going way back, I had an academy contract but there was plenty of talent ahead of me by the time I came out of it.
"I had two options really: I could walk away from the professional game, or I could go and look at becoming a professional abroad. I had a couple of offers but I didn't see it as a good fit at the time, so I decided to move to Dublin to work."
It is a conundrum that faces scores of wannabe pros every year. Luckily for O'Mahony, he had a business degree and masters to fall back on and employment soon followed.
"I got a job in a corporate finance house in Dublin. I ended up working in the industry for two years, but I still kept on the rugby and played AIL with Clontarf.
"I kept in contact with the lads here too though and Anthony Foley kept his eye on me. Then, once all the injuries happened in the squad, I got asked to come back.
"I got called in on Good Friday 2012 when Munster 'A' played Leinster 'A' at the RDS in the B&I Cup semi-final. Things went very well for me that day, I played well, scored a try and after that I got offered a full-time contract. It was a quick turnaround really."
Working the numbers has been parked for now though, it's all about watching his stock as a rugby pro grow. After his mid-career hiatus, the 27-year-old is finally beginning to flourish, thanks to the assistance of Foley and plenty of long hours.
"I've had to work unbelievably hard on my game since I came back, especially around the breakdown. I have been working closely with Anthony -- I have been for the last year and a half -- but it is only recently that that work is beginning to translate.
"It is seriously hard work. After training I might spend another 20 minutes or half an hour with 'Axel' doing extra work, watching game footage, anything just to see where I can pick up things and get some improvements.
"But it's been going great lately. I got a couple of runs in the senior team: I came on against Dragons and got about 30 minutes and that went very well, it couldn't have gone better. I got a few good bounces of the ball, a few turnovers and the whole thing was great for me personally.
"I think the consistency is beginning to come at last. I was playing well at times last year, but this year with the seniors and the 'A's I have been able to put in some good solid performances. My game has changed a bit to turn a lot of my focus to the breakdown and I seem to have gotten the hang of it. I know what's expected of me now."
Looking across the back-rows at Munster's disposal, it is abundantly clear that coach Rob Penney likes an open-side flanker who is quick on his feet and combative at the breakdown. Tommy O'Donnell and Sean Dougall are leading the chase, but the man who was recently crowned the fastest Munster forward from their speed test is ready for the challenge.
"Tommy and Dougs have both got great engines and can get around the place really well, so definitely it is a trait that is vital for No 7s here," says O'Mahony, who made his full Munster debut last season against Edinburgh. "I always was a good player to make a breaks and carrying the ball, but I was probably missing the bread-and-butter stuff at the start.
"So since I came back, in terms of my personal development, Axel is the most important person in the set-up for me. He has had to go from square one with me and build me up. I've been developing the breakdown work, which weighs highly, and I've been working pretty much non-stop with him on that. He's been hugely influential on me."
But while he waits for his next chance to shine on the big stage, O'Mahony is happy to return to more familiar competitions as the B&I Cup rolls into town. It's the perfect schooling for a budding rugby player, he claims.
"It has been huge for me. It's very hard to play club rugby and go direct from that into the senior set-up. The game plans of the senior and 'A' teams are all pretty much identical here. Week-to-week the plans might vary, but we are working off the same plays, and we all practice the same situations together.
"It makes that transfer seamless. It would be hard to try and come into the team and take your chance without any of that background work. Now I can just slot into the team and not worry about it because it has been replicated at 'A' level. It is just a matter of stepping up really."
Munster 'A' take on Nottingham at St Mary's tonight (7.30) in a crucial clash.
"The game is huge for us, it's a really tight pool," says O'Mahony. "We are level on points, but scoring difference is all that separates us with Plymouth. Nottingham are a tough team. They have plenty of bulk up front and a couple of very big wingers as well. They are a big, physical side -- the stereotypical, abrasive English Championship side. A win would see us in great shape."