O'Mahony steps into Quinlan boots with confidence
Munster finds captain for the future
SEPTEMBER 27, 1997 -- a date that inspired Munster for 10 years -- the province's only home Heineken Cup defeat until Leicester did them over at Thomond Park in 2007.
Cardiff deserved their 37-32 triumph at Musgrave Park, but one of the major plusses and talking points afterwards was the performance of Munster's 23-year-old No 7, who set the Cork ground alight with his powerful running and thirst for combat.
That was the day Alan Quinlan announced himself on the big stage and the Tipperary man went on to install himself in the Munster Hall Of Fame with over 200 appearances for the province. His retirement last season created a void, but Munster may have found replacement in Peter O'Mahony, who has made the breakthrough at an even younger age, having only turned 22 last month.
Quinlan had to fight for attention in the youth ranks before rising to prominence with Shannon in the mid-1990s, while O'Mahony came up the more established route via PBC Cork and Cork Constitution, but, in terms of size and style, there are notable similarities between these two back-rowers.
Like Quinlan, O'Mahony is an athletic line-out option at 6' 3" and loves nothing more than getting the ball in his hands, with the pace to make it count (although Quinlan's velocity eased up a tad in his latter years).
And, just as Quinlan played across the back-row, O'Mahony cannot be shoehorned into one position, rather than an out-and-out six or seven, the Corkman is a six-and-a-half with the footballing ability and strength off the back of the scrum to slot in at No 8 also.
However, the greatest point of commonality between the two is the edge they bring to the game -- an air of aggression that can attract the attention of referees, but also intimidates opponents and bolsters team-mates.
After their loss to the youthful Welsh, Irish rugby needs young players putting their hands up. Just as Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald profited at Leinster during the 2007 World Cup, O'Mahony has made the most of the opportunities presented by the absence of a chunk of Munster players in New Zealand at the start of his season.
Indeed, such has been O'Mahony's impact that when he was handed the Munster captaincy on his 22nd birthday last month, it was regarded as a natural rite of passage for a player who has revelled in leadership duties throughout his fledgling career.
He captained PBC Cork in 2008, the Ireland U-20s the following year and led Munster 'A' to the British and Irish Cup final in 2010. O'Mahony has also regularly captained Con in the All-Ireland League and is now being touted as long-term successor to Paul O'Connell as senior captain.
Simon Zebo has been led many times by O'Mahony through Pres, Con and Munster and has huge admiration for his style of leadership.
"He is a brilliant captain and a great motivator. He knows how to assess situations and what is needed; he knows when to get guys riled up, but he also knows when a calm atmosphere is needed."
Those views are echoed by Niall Ronan, even though O'Mahony's emergence threatens Ronan's place in the back-row, particularly if he is slotted in at openside.
"He is doing a great job, he's very talented and playing brilliantly," said Ronan. "Captains have to be good leaders and Peter is that leader. He's vocal, but also leads by example and has been outstanding this season, he's very mature, level-headed, makes the right decisions and improves with every game. I think he is definitely the long-term Munster captain."
However, for the time being, it is O'Mahony's playing rather than leadership abilities which command more attention. The World Cup has highlighted the continued importance of a ball-winning No 7 in the modern game, chiefly through the performances of David Pocock, Richie McCaw and Sam Warburton, and while Sean O'Brien did a good job there for Ireland, there is still the suspicion that he would be better employed at six or eight with an out-and-out fetcher at openside.
David Wallace has been the regular Munster openside along with Ronan, but Wallace is a long-term injury casualty and now in his mid-30s. Quinlan began his Munster career in the No 7 jersey and it would suit Munster and Irish rugby if O'Mahony could bring his Quinlan-esque qualities to that specialist position.
Wherever he plays, O'Mahony, with 17 senior Munster appearances already under his belt, looks like a player on the move.