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FEATURE Peter O’Mahony has passed the torch, but that old Munster fire remains

Peter O’Mahony has passed the torch, but that old Munster fire remains
2 weeks ago

Should Tadhg Beirne continue to defy modern player load management logic and lead Munster to a title defence in the United Rugby Championship Final, he will have played 30 games (and counting) this season. The current IRFU model is so successfully honed by now that it is rare for a top level international to pour so much into the provincial cause. It is pretty remarkable, especially with a two-Test tour to South Africa on the horizon.

Beirne has played 15 times for Munster, this season, after the World Cup warm-ups and full campaign, and with a winning Six Nations championship in between. He has started all 15 games and made it to the final whistle, each time. The only minutes he has missed in Munster red, when starting, were spent in the sin-bin during a closing stages of a home win over Glasgow.

For Beirne, though, this is not above or beyond. This is simply the requirement – and the pull – of being Munster captain. This is what he has taken from the man he inherited the role from, Peter O’Mahony.

Tadhg Beirne Peter O'Mahony
Tadhg Beirne will slowly assume the Munster talisman status from Peter O’Mahony when he retires (Photo Piaras Ó Mídheach/Getty Images)

The early months of 2024 focused on the unresolved issue of O’Mahony and whether he would stay on for another season, with Munster and Ireland. There had been talk of a contract stand-off and O’Mahony, in his Six Nations dealings with the media (after being named Ireland captain), shut all of it down. “You get an email to say you’ve been selected for the Six Nations, it’s one of the best feelings… You’re driving up the road to meet up with the best 35 players in the country. Not everybody gets to feel that… if you can’t get excited for that, you’re in the wrong room.”

During the Six Nations, O’Mahony did admit he would not be around for the 2027 World Cup, when he would be 38. “If this is my last one,” he said, after leading Ireland to another Six Nations title, “it’s not a bad one to go out on.” Caelan Doris has already captained Ireland, against Italy, this year and he closed out every other game in that championship as on-pitch leader, after O’Mahony has departed the scene. The succession plan is in place, but O’Mahony is sticking around for one more season. Andy Farrell will have certainly approved, as keeping the likes of O’Mahony, Cian Healy and Conor Murray on will be crucial, in his thinking, when he takes his British & Irish Lions coaching sabbatical.

We knew he [O’Mahony] had a big decision to make. A lot of us thought that decision would come after the Six Nations, when he’d see how he got on and had a chat with his family. It’s great to have him sign on.

John Ryan

Graham Rowntree, and all at Munster, are thrilled the standard-bearer is preparing for one more tilt. John Ryan, who signed a one-year contract extension with Munster, is delighted to have ‘another old fella around’.

The 35-year-old prop said he, and everyone else in the Munster squad, gave O’Mahony time and space to make the call on his playing future. “We knew he had a big decision to make. A lot of us thought that decision would come after the Six Nations, when he’d see how he got on and had a chat with his family. It’s great to have him sign on, and have Conor Murray sign on.”

John Ryan
John Ryan, the grizzled Munster prop is thrilled another ‘old fella’ is sticking around at Munster (Photo Eóin Noonan/Getty Images)

“Around Pete,” Ryan adds, “you’d better not drop your standards or he’ll bark at ya. That’s a very good thing. You want to be on your game, especially if you’re one of the young lads, because he’ll chase it up – this is the level you need to be at, all the time. I’m used to it, some of the younger lads do need to get used to it but I like it. I’m of that ilk, myself.”

“Pete’s got this thing where, when he’s on, he’s on. But when he’s off, he’s bloody having the craic. It sounds like such an Irish thing to say, but he does love the craic. Loves touring, loves being in camp, being at the likes of Carton House with the lads, having coffees and chats. We saw him in New Zealand (after the Test Series win over the All Blacks, in 2022) with Bundee Aki looking after him! But that’s what you play rugby for – those big wins, and celebrating after them. Pete is lucky enough to have had enough of them, with Munster, Ireland and the Lions, so he’s had a lot of fun.”

I’ve got these guys around me and these guys have played and won European Cups. They’ve won Six Nations. They’ve captained Lions teams, these guys expect me to be one of the best today – d’ya know what I mean?

Peter O’Mahony

O’Mahony had a brief taste of that fun in his first couple of senior team seasons with Munster. He made his debut in January 2010, against Ulster, in a side that contained the likes of Doug Howlett, Jean De Villiers, Peter Stringer and Donnacha Ryan. He was a league winner at the end of the next season, having played in nine of the matches. Just over 18 months after his debut, the Cork native was captaining his province for the first time. Munster had an eight-man contingent at the 2011 World Cup, but the likes of Howlett, Stringer, Marcus Horan and John Hayes were still on league duty.

“It probably said to me what they thought of me,” O’Mahony told me, a few years ago. “But, again, that comes back to putting pressure on yourself. If they think that of me and they’re giving me that responsibility, they probably expect something in return, which is a performance. That’s the pressure you put on yourself, and then more and more pressure builds. You know, I’ve got these guys around me and these guys have played and won European Cups. They’ve won Six Nations. They’ve captained Lions teams, these guys expect me to be one of the best today – d’ya know what I mean? They’re putting me in this position, and that, you’d hope, brings out the best in you.”

To have O’Mahony, Murray, John Ryan, Simon Zebo and Dave Kilcoyne all come through around the same time should have seen Munster kick on. However, the province gradually bade farewell to that Heineken Cup-winning generation and – either through poor signings, bad injury luck and a sub-standard player pathway – slid backwards. Leinster and, at various times, Ulster and Connacht pushed beyond them. Leinster were the bane of their league life, while there were five creditable but losing trips to Champions Cup semi finals between 2012 and 2019.

Back in March, O’Mahony was reminded – less than an hour after leading Ireland to Six Nations glory – that he had been winless as Munster captain for well over a decade. “That’s a shit stat, by the way!” Andy Farrell cut in but, awash in that winning glow, O’Mahony was happy to field the follow-up question on a Midas touch that arrived better late than never.

Up next for Munster is an Ospreys side that had next to no chance of making the URC quarter finals after a 61-14 walloping by Leinster, back on May 11

“It’s certainly hard to beat, this feeling,” he said. “There have been days that you wouldn’t dare dream of, like today and lifting a trophy. I’ve been through enough losses – semi finals with Munster – to pick a lowest point.”

Up next for Munster is an Ospreys side that had next to no chance of making the URC quarter finals after a 61-14 walloping by Leinster, back on May 11. Wins over Dragons and Cardiff, along with other results that fell their way, have the underdog Welsh side en-route to Thomond Park for a fascinating showdown.

Munster were the road dogs, last season, winning five straight on the spin to end a 12-year trophy drought and become unlikely URC champions. This season, they have backed up that win to top the regular season standings.

Peter O'Mahony
Peter O’Mahony feels he still has more in the tank for another season with Munster (Photo Andrew Kearns/ Getty Images)

“I feel there’s more left in me to give,” wrote O’Mahony when he signed on to play on, at least, until the summer of 2025. He may just have 50- and 55-minute shifts to offer, these days, but there are still very few that can hold a candle to him, when he brings the fire.

“He might feel he needs to gee himself up by having a go at the opposition,” says John Ryan. “He creates a narrative in his head that everyone is having a go at him, so it brings out his best. He’s brilliant.”

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