'People might think we're mad to say it, but we're aiming for three wins', says Peter O'Mahony
O'Mahony desperate for perfect autumn to ease lingering pain of dark days in green
THE old head on Peter O'Mahony's young shoulders looks out on to the Dublin city skyline and contemplates an international career that has had more downs than ups.
He has achieved much in a green jersey; amassing 16 caps, captaining his country aged just 23, and performing strongly enough to become a regular fixture in the national team.
However, before skippering the team to victories over the United States and Canada last summer, he had won just four of his 14 Test matches.
O'Mahony's international rise coincided with the demise of the Declan Kidney era, a period of time in which Ireland have become an inconsistent shadow of their former selves.
The Corkman wears his heart on his sleeve on the pitch and when he speaks about the emotional rollercoaster he has been on in a green jersey, it becomes clear how he has taken each blow squarely on the chin.
As he contemplates the view from the penthouse suite of a city centre hotel, he admits that, having been through the dark days, he wants to channel the disappointment into a positive new start under Joe Schmidt.
"Of course, it has been great to be involved, but we want to be winning and it hasn't gone that way over the past couple of years," he explains.
"We've had some great wins and they have probably been the best days of my career, that Argentinian game and stuff. When I perform in a green jersey and I have a few beers with the lads afterwards, there is no better feeling.
"Obviously, the worst feeling in the world is losing in the international jersey, especially when you have the form – it's heartbreaking.
"That's the biggest drive the guys have, that feeling afterwards when you do well and the fear when you've done the opposite. They're polar opposites and they drive you so hard."
What must make it worse for O'Mahony and his generation of young players is that they grew up watching an Ireland team who were consistently successful for much of the last decade, culminating in the 2009 Grand Slam.
They have not hit those heights since, as Kidney looked to freshen things up and replace the so-called 'golden generation'.
However, the Munster captain recalls that the likes of Paul O'Connell, Brian O'Driscoll and the rest of that group had to endure some dark days before emerging on the other side and he wants this team to do the same.
"The early part of their careers, they endured a lot of heartache and beatings – well, maybe not beatings, but they were on the wrong end of a couple of results and that really drove them on and it ended up with the 2009 Grand Slam," he says.
"What's important for us younger guys is to take all the lessons that we are getting at the moment and bank them up and keep that bitterness because that is what is going to drive us on over the next month, certainly, and beyond."
Having endured their worst ever Six Nations finish last year amid an unprecedented injury crisis, it would be natural for Ireland to suffer from a confidence deficit ahead of the November Internationals, but O'Mahony dismisses the idea. "I don't think so, I'd hate to think so. All you have to do is look at the way the provinces have performed over the last couple of years, it shouldn't be the reason for Ireland not performing.
"We have a good enough quality of player to back ourselves against anyone," he says, adding that he's targeting wins over Samoa, Australia and even New Zealand over the next few weeks.
"We're at home, you know. We're certainly a proud country and we won't be aiming for anything less than three wins.
"People might think we're mad to say that, but there is never a stage in that jersey where we'll say, 'right, well, we've beaten Samoa and Australia and it doesn't really matter what happens against New Zealand. We aim for two out of three.' It's not the way we think.
"We're aiming for three wins at home, we want to make the Aviva a fortress, a place teams fear coming over to. Hopefully, these are the first three games where we can lay it down."
O'Mahony admitted that two days of training with Ireland have left him tired and there is much for the new coaching staff to impart on the squad ahead of the opening clash with the Samoans on Saturday week. Along with Schmidt, the forwards have been getting used to working with John Plumtree and from the few interactions they have had thus far, the flanker says Ireland fans can expect a focus on mauls and line-outs this autumn.
"He hasn't changed the wheel, he is a good coach, his attention to detail is second to none.
"He has only been in a few weeks, but he loves a line-out, he wants us to be a strong mauling side and I think, hopefully, I will get on well with him and he'll suit me as a coach," the Lifestyle Sports Style ambassador explains. While the forwards will be looking to update their game out of touch, the Cork Constitution tyro says that there will be noticeable differences to how Ireland play under Schmidt.
"You'll definitely get something different, but we've only had three sessions, you know what I mean? You're not going to see us playing like Fiji," he says.
"You will see some different things, but we'll definitely bring an intensity and our maul is one thing. I think we've a good enough squad there to take on board quite a good enough amount of information.
"It has to be done. With two new coaches, they are obviously going to bring their own ideas and like certain things that other coaches didn't."
In his recently published book, Johnny Sexton revealed that one of the things that had to change at the start of last season was that players must turn up to Ireland camp ready to train and giving their all, rather than sitting out the first few days.
That has been unavoidable this week, given the injury list that Schmidt has faced, but O'Mahony insists things have been sharp.
"I think what Johnny was referring to is just that whoever is training is fired up, that we have our detail going out on the pitch and that fellas are not going out saying, 'what's going on here?'
"Guys have been on the ball over the last couple of days and we've had a couple of great sessions."
He'll be hoping the early positivity can help turn Ireland's fortunes around and give him some more good days to block out the heartache.