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‘We are building towards the World Cup. We are not going to say it isn’t the goal’

Peter O’Mahony was thrilled with Ireland’s series win in New Zealand but his sights are now set on an even bigger goal.

O'Mahony celebrates with Tadhg Beirne.
O'Mahony celebrates with Tadhg Beirne.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

LET’S START WITH Hamilton in 2012. There are no easy ways to talk up a 60-0 thrashing so Peter O’Mahony doesn’t even try.

A chastening experience, he doubted then if Ireland would ever beat the All Blacks during his career. They’ve now done it five times out of eight.

Numbers four and five came within the last fortnight, those back-to-back wins securing Ireland’s first series win in New Zealand.

“It means a huge amount,” said O’Mahony. “It’s not just the four weeks of work, you know, it’s been 18 months, two years of graft and understanding and learning.

“We had the French away loss (in the Six Nations) and the learnings that we took from the first Test at Eden Park on this tour. I’m delighted for the lads that they got their reward for the hard work they put in, especially the young fellas.

“The last time I played a third Test was 10 years ago and we were beaten by 60 points and this is a different animal, a different team, the way they learn; the way they adapt. The young guys are the ones who are really driving it on for us and I think there were no better men last Saturday.”

The thing that impressed O’Mahony most by the kids in his midst, the Dan Sheehans, the Caelan Doris’ was their calmness.

irelands-dan-sheehan Sheehan's calmness impressed O'Mahony.

“We’re trying to get away from the emotion side of it,” he explains. That will come with international rugby in terms of how much that means to you but it’s about how you deliver your performance and how calm you can be when everything is going mental around you. “And in a third Test like that, a third Test series decider against the All Blacks away from home, it’s a mad environment and how cool can you be in those scenarios.

“That’s where we’ve got to, we can be calm, you know, after half-time when we concede three tries you come into a circle of people who are looking across to leaders, looking for information to see what we’re doing from the kick-off or how we’ve got to fix things rather than panic, looking up at the screen. That’s the difference.

“It’s about being in the moment and the boys, not only did we take what they had, which they’re always going to have their purple patch but we got back into the game. We clawed our way back, penalties. There was no-one getting uneasy, everyone stuck to the system.”

The upshot is Ireland are now the No1 ranked team in the world. More than that, they’re looking more resilient now than ever.

And for O’Mahony, who now has flecks of grey in his beard, you sense that he is cherishing every moment. It was only last November when he said that month was the most enjoyable of his career, even though he spent those weeks scrapping to get into the team. So where does this month rank?

peter-omahony-with-codie-taylor Source: Photosport/Elias Rodriguez/INPHO

“It’s no different. For me, whether you’re wearing 20 or six or 17 or one, to be amongst this group of people is special.

“People who never experience it, the environment is special and the coaching team has given us a great platform to play off. As well as that, the buzz and the craic that we have together different gravy and that’s why you want to get in.

“You’re learning all the time, which is a great environment to be in and an enjoyable place to be.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the leadership group and you’ve 80-odd Tests, 110 Tests whatever Johnny has, you’re constantly sharpening the knife, constantly getting better, constantly adding new little things to your game that can make a difference.”

That’s been a recurring theme with this Irish team.

They’re never satisfied even when they’ve made history.

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Even in the aftermath of last Saturday’s 32-22 victory in Wellington, O’Mahony was referencing the things they got wrong rather than indulging in what they did right.

“Some of our defence wasn’t good enough; some of discipline gave them access. The most impressive thing is we’ve a lot more to go and a lot more to give.”

Irish fans hope so. They’ve gone to World Cups before with a lot of hope; they’ve arrived home before the postcards. But deep down O’Mahony believes this team is mentally stronger.

“You can’t predict the future but the group of players we have built – mixed with a few of the older lads – they are all incredibly hungry.

“We are building towards the World Cup. We are not going to say it isn’t the goal. This tour was a great test for us – two Maori games, three Tests, a bit of chaos.

“Guys had to double up which is the kind of thing you need to do in a World Cup. We have to prepare for that. Things went well (in New Zealand) but you have to bank that and move on.”

Last time he and Ireland moved on from New Zealand was a chastening experience. 60-0. The scoreline has never left him throughout his subsequent holiday. “I know I was only a young fella then but that summer was tough.”

This one will be better. “If you’d ask me then, could we win a series 2-1? I’d probably have said no.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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