Monday 20 November 2017

'Change happens and we'll get behind new guy' - Peter O’Mahony says uncertainty won’t ruffle Reds

Peter O’Mahony believes there’s a big season coming for this group of Munster players. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony believes there’s a big season coming for this group of Munster players. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

It would be easy for Munster to write this season off as one of transition, to use the impending coaching changes as a cover for underachievement.

They won't entertain such talk within a Lions-led senior group, however. And, if they are to avoid the pitfalls, it is up to Peter O'Mahony and Co to steer the ship as one regime hands over to another.

It won't be easy, but after last season's tribulations the Corkman is steeled for anything. A year ago, he captained his team through a period of grief during which no one would have forgiven a loss of team form given what the players were going through.

Despite the tragic loss of Anthony Foley, they soldiered on and produced a memorable season.

Progress had been made, but ultimately the long wait for silverware continued. When Rassie Erasmus announced he would be returning to South Africa, fans could be forgiven for wondering if last season was a once-off as the province were forced to go back to the drawing board.

The as yet unnamed new man will take over during the European Champions Cup pool stages.

The dressing-room will have to be strong to keep their focus on the mission at hand while also getting used to an unfamiliar boss.

The long-standing skipper will play a huge role in that transition and he is confident the players' heads will not be turned.

"We've a group of players who want to take lessons from last season, who are ambitious and want to keep driving the club," O'Mahony said.

"We'll have a big input into going forward, I don't think anyone who comes in is going to say, 'Stop all this, we're doing something different'.

"Whoever comes in will put their own stamp on it, but as players it's just about having our say and row in behind the new guy.

"If you came into a meeting this time last year and then came into a meeting this morning, you wouldn't know that there's anything happening.

"It's a professional sport, these things are going to happen and a lot of the players who are there now, they've been through this before so all we can do is put our heads down and train hard and listen to the feedback.

"Change happens and the new guy's going to come in and do his thing we're all going to row in behind that."

The big difference from this time last year is the expectation.

At 12/1, Munster are considered in the running to lift the Champions Cup this season whereas at the outset of Erasmus's first season they were considered also-rans after failing to emerge from successive pools in the previous seasons.

"People probably had a right to underestimate us this time last year, we were struggling," O'Mahony conceded.

"We came sixth or seventh and scraped our way into Europe and I wouldn't have begrudged people for underestimating us, because they were right to.

"We weren't performing well, but I knew there was a big season in us.

"I believed that (the previous season) wasn't us, and we performed relatively well last year. We got lessons from some of the bigger teams in Europe, we got a good lesson from Saracens and a good lesson from Llanelli at the end of the season.

"They're lessons we have to take if we want to move forward as a club that wants to compete for higher honours.

"You have to take those lessons on the chin and keep them in the bank and build on last year. The mood is ambitious, positive. Guys are enjoying training, we had a great pre-season."

The experience of last season was at time excruciating for the squad and management, but O'Mahony believes they found strength in that adversity.

"We enjoyed last season as much as we could, we learnt a huge amount rugby-wise and individually about ourselves," he said.

"A lot of guys had to do a lot of growing up quite quickly last year and you need to make that kind of stuff stand to you. Not just rugby, but on all sides.

"We'd a lot of experiences last year with Axel, the European side of it ... things you shouldn't have to deal with that we did have to deal with. Semi-finals of both competitions, a (PRO12) final. I got a tour out of it.

"You've got to take from all of those experiences and hopefully I can bank them."

Although he is understandably unwilling to engage on Seán O'Brien's criticism of the Lions, the 28-year-old reflected on a summer that saw him play his way into the starting team for the first Test.

On top of that, Warren Gatland handed him the captaincy only to whisk him off before an hour of the Eden Park defeat had elapsed and leave him out of the subsequent meetings with New Zealand.

While he concedes his personal disappointment at missing out, he prefers to reflect on the overall tour as a successful one. "Personally, but you can only be that way for a few minutes, there's too much else going on," he said of his own disappointment.

"You can't be around a tour like that and feel sorry for yourself, there's too much going on.

"To do that it's unbelievably selfish and that's not what rugby is about, obviously you're gutted inside for 10 minutes, then you get on with it.

"I'm hugely proud of captaining the team and I think I carried myself as best I could afterwards, you're invested at that stage, you've opened yourself up to a group of guys you don't really know, all you want to do together is win.

"I trained as well as I could the last two weeks, you're just trying to get the lads to win, that's all you wanted to happen. I'd a hugely enjoyable experience, very proud of what happened.

"Obviously I'm disappointed we didn't win, but that's part and parcel of it."

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