Sport Rugby

Saturday 24 March 2018

O’Mahony out to tame All Blacks back-row like ‘crazy’ O’Connell in ’89

IN 1989, a young flanker from Cork, just a couple years out of school, ran out for Munster against the world champion All Blacks and caused such a stir that legendary New Zealand No 8 Wayne 'Buck' Shelford had to take him out, asking "who the hell was that crazy No 7?" in the bar afterwards.

Peter O'Mahony was just a few months old when Ken O'Connell did his thing at Musgrave Park 23 years ago, but there are definite echoes heading into Saturday's Test match at Eden Park.

O'Mahony is also a recent graduate of PBC Cork, ready to go up against a World Cup-winning captain and icon in Richie McCaw and, just like O'Connell, refuses to be intimidated by reputation, however exalted.

"I'm not going to be overawed. I'm not the type to be star-struck, whomever I play against," said O'Mahony.

"McCaw is a hell of a challenge, no doubt, a very cute player with masses of experience, but I have played against plenty of back-rows this year who have been world class. We have plenty of very good rugby players in our squad too."

It is an attitude that has served O'Mahony extremely well in what is still an embryonic professional career.

This time last year, the 22-year-old was a promising development player for Munster who had demonstrated his potential in the win over Australia a few months previously, but no one was predicting how quickly he was going to force his way into the international reckoning.

Well no one except former Grand Slam-winning Wales and current Ireland U-20 coach Mike Ruddock, who was hugely impressed by the destruction O'Mahony had wrought on his side during a Junior World Cup warm-up game against a Munster Development XV, stating: "I can see O'Mahony doing big things in the next year, he is a bit special."

Ruddock's assessment was bang on. A few months later, O'Mahony became Munster's youngest captain at 21, and he went on to nail down his place in their Heineken Cup side before winning his first cap off the bench against Italy and finishing the Six Nations with four in total, including a start against Scotland.


Like McCaw, he is a multi-purpose 'loosie' with the ability to play across the back-row and the added benefit of being an excellent line-out option.

He also carries himself with the same assured but unassuming manner and has not been carried away by his swift rise to prominence.

"I am happy enough with how it has gone but it feels like I am only getting going.

"I suppose I do get stopped in the street and recognised a bit now but I don't mind that at all, sure it's not that long since I was a young fellah pestering Munster players for autographs.

"It is great to get a cap for your country, there's no point talking that down. It was an emotional experience, something I have always wanted to achieve and very special for my family -- they have been so supportive all the way up and you want to do them proud."

O'Mahony was part of an Ireland squad that suffered a St Patrick's Day humiliation at the hands of England at the end of the Six Nations and says the desire to atone for that experience is as powerful a motivating factor as measuring themselves against the best team in the world.

"That hurt, deeply," he said.

"We didn't want to finish our Six Nations that way. People said four games in a row was a big ask, but I certainly wouldn't use that as an excuse, our squad was capable of doing well.

"Everyone has been looking forward to putting things right and we have that opportunity on Saturday.

"I grew up watching the All Blacks and going to the games whenever they were in Ireland.

"I remember seeing them in 1997 when I was eight and meeting Jonah Lomu in the elevator of the Burlington Hotel with my old fellah afterwards.

"But, like I said, you can't be in awe of them -- there is a point to prove because we have never beaten them, but there is a point to prove every time you go out to play a Test match.


"All I can say is that the mood is great, we want to get back in the jersey and put in a big performance and there is an absolute belief that we can do that."

It is O'Mahony's first visit to New Zealand and it will be his first time seeing the Haka up close on Saturday, not that he has any intention of being fazed by the experience.

"Yeah, I am looking forward to seeing it. The Haka is one of sport's great spectacles, but in terms of being intimidated by it, I don't think I'll be too bothered."

Given Ireland's history of being cuffed about by the All Blacks and their array of icons, O'Mahony's 'not a bother' attitude looks like a good way to go.

Just like O'Connell all those years ago -- no fear, no doubts, no prisoners.

Irish Independent

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