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'This place is home to me and I love coming home'

Peter O’Mahony is determined to put World Cup pain behind him as Munster kick off another European campaign.

Peter O'Mahony during a Munster press conference.
Peter O'Mahony during a Munster press conference.

PETER O’MAHONY CAN be forgiven for feeling that he’s had to face the same old questions again and again over the course of his long career.

Yesterday in Limerick the Munster captain was up in front of the microphones again, and unfortunately for him two of his least favourite topics were up for discussion.

The pain of Ireland’s latest World Cup quarter-final exit is still fresh, and while he’s happy to be putting his shoulder to the wheel again with Munster, they too are clouded by a familiar sense of uncertainty.

The Heineken Champions Cup draw has left them pitted in the perceived ‘Group of Death’ alongside Ospreys, Racing and Saracens. Not the ideal path for a team that last broke past the semi-final barrier in 2008. 

Add to that a small scale injury dilemma that is only a knock or two away from becoming a full-on crisis. We don’t know when Joey Carbery will return from his latest ankle set-back. The in-from Dave Kilcoyne is also unavailable for the opening rounds of European competition, while JJ Hanrahan’s hamstring problem is likely to leave Tyler Bleyendaal as the only fit senior out-half for Saturday’s trip to Ospreys, and potentially the visit of Racing seven days later.

Of course, O’Mahony has seen the province come out on right side of far bigger battles than this. While their numbers may be down, Munster enter the opening round of European competition on the back of five wins from six in the Guinness Pro14. Belief is never low at Munster, who have exited the Champions Cup at the semi-final stage for the last three years running, and for his part, O’Mahony doesn’t believe any ill-effects from another World Cup disappointment will trickle back into the province.

“I’d like to think I have come back in as the same person I left as,” O’Mahony said.

“Another experience under my belt but I haven’t changed the way that I have sat in my seat and commented at meetings or the way I have trained – I have trained as hard as I could. I think all the boys have.

peter-omahony Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“We [Ireland internationals] had a lot of learning to do [when we returned to Munster]. There was a lot of change for us across the board – set-piece, attack, defence. There was lots of stuff we changed. We had a lot of learnings to do, which was good, which turned out well last week under pressure from Ulster.

“I’m feeling good,” he added.

“The last time I came home from a World Cup I was out for 12 months so it’s certainly better than that. Look, I feel good, my body feels good. Two weeks off back home to the family, back home to Cork for two weeks.

“I was really looking forward to getting back in to be honest. I hadn’t seen some of the boys for a long time. This place is home to me and I love coming home.”

While Munster’s 12-strong international contingent were on duty in Japan, the province were negotiating the early stages of their latest rejuvenation project. After a stuttering attacking game continued to prove costly last season, head coach Johann van Graan moved to bring in two new headline additions behind the scenes in Stephen Larkham, senior coach, and Graham Rowntree, forwards coach. While still early days, their fingerprints are starting to appear on different patterns Munster have been presenting in their game. 

“It’s been great. Getting back to the group, there is huge enjoyment here,” O’Mahony continued. 

“There is massive competition, obviously since Stephen and ‘Wig’ [Rowntree] have come in. I have worked with Wig with the Lions. We had a great experience in New Zealand a couple of years ago.

“It’s great to have someone of his experience and expertise. He’s a great character, so it’s great to have him on board.

“We have done some great training already. He has got some great ideas and likewise with Stephen. He is a very enjoyable character as well. I really enjoy the way he presents and delivers messages. He has great thoughts in the game.”

Even with a depleted squad, Munster will travel to Swansea confident of seeking an opening weekend win against an Ospreys team who have struggled in the Pro14 this season. The hosts will welcome back a number of their Wales internationals for the first time this season, but Munster will sense opportunity against a team who have yet to build any cohesion since the World Cup.

“You go back through our encounters over the years, they have always been hugely contested and hugely physical. It’s a different animal in Europe. These are different animals. They consider us different animals. It’s just a different competition and it brings out the best in teams. As soon as you let the ball drop in one of these games you are under huge pressure. I think it’s not going to be any different this week. No matter who the other team picks it’s going to be huge physical encounter. 

“Their set piece is very strong. Their counter-attack, some of their backs, their strike plays, I just think they are a dangerous team in broken play. They are quite direct. We will have a big physical confrontation to deal with. 

“Then you look at the group. We are going to be fighting for every point in this group to be able to get out of it. We going to have a big fight this weekend to scrap for a few points to kick off the competition.”

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