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'Joe has changed the outlook on rugby for young generations'

Peter O’Mahony says that Joe Schmidt’s impact on Irish rugby will be felt all the way down to primary school level.

Joe Schmidt and Peter O'Mahony during an Ireland training session.
Joe Schmidt and Peter O'Mahony during an Ireland training session.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Updated Oct 24th 2019, 8:39 AM

THE KNIVES ARE out in some quarters following Ireland’s thoroughly disheartening Rugby World Cup exit, but Tuesday’s low-key homecoming served as a reminder of the amount of goodwill that still exists towards outgoing head coach Joe Schmidt and the players that achieved so much under him.

The small yet healthy number of supporters that gathered to greet the Ireland squad had began to line around the arrivals gate in Dublin Airport, long before the players had touched down on home soil.

The inquests and reviews behind the scenes will be brutal, and there are some hard questions which need to be asked as Andy Farrell steps into Schmidt’s shoes, but there was something encouraging about seeing kids, out late on a school night, greeting their heroes as if they had conquered the world.

Long after the players had filed through and stopped for autographs, a few young supporters could be seen throwing a rugby ball around the near-empty arrivals hall.

The image tied in neatly with the words of Peter O’Mahony, who had stopped for a very brief chat with the media a little earlier, where he was keen to praise Schmidt’s impact on Irish rugby.

“I think for me, he’s changed the prospect and the outlook on rugby for young generations, which is probably the biggest thing you could say about any person’s career,” O’Mahony said. 

peter-omahony-with-jennifer-malone Peter O'Mahony after arriving back in Dublin Airport on Tuesday evening. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“There are kids in Ireland now who will be expecting to be successful, expecting to win trophies regularly and there will be a huge portion of that, that will be down to Joe’s work and his contribution to Irish rugby.

“Not only has he changed the direction of my career and this team’s career, but he’s changed probably the careers of the guys who are in primary and secondary school at the moment. He’s done incredible work.”

That work of course ended with arguably the lowest moment of Schmidt’s coaching career, as Saturday’s 46-14 thrashing by the All Blacks brought the curtain down on his era in charge of Ireland.

Since the final whistle went in Tokyo on Saturday, all the players had wanted to do is return home, the aftermath of that defeat made all the more miserable as they couldn’t get a flight back until Tuesday. They eventually arrived in just after 7pm following a lay-over in Heathrow.

Johnny Sexton, complete with baseball cap, was first through the gate, stopping briefly for a few photos before sticking his head down and quickly making his way for the exit. Around five minutes passed before the rest of the playing squad trailed through.

The IRFU were criticised for refusing to put forward senior players for interview following the All Blacks defeat and even with a couple of days distance O’Mahony was still reluctant to assess the damage.

“I haven’t had a chance to look back at it,” O’Mahony said when asked if he had started to make sense of another quarter-final exit.

“Obviously we didn’t perform to where we need to be performing or where we want to be performing. I can’t say I’ve had a look back at the game so I don’t have any comment to make on that.”

O’Mahony, 30, falls into the bracket of players that may not stick around long enough to see the next World Cup. 

While he was by no means at his best in Japan, there are other players whose reputations suffered far more damage. Bar a moment of madness to give away a needless first-half penalty, O’Mahony was one of the few players who put his shoulder to the wheel against the All Blacks, including two big turnovers with the score at 17-0.

“We’ve always learned from our experiences and you probably learn most from disappointment,” he added.

“I certainly hope that it’s not a defining moment for my career, but look, all these experiences and moments in careers are ones we’ll always look back on for reference for future success hopefully.”

When O’Mahony and Co will actually feel ready to look back is anybody’s guess.

Eoin Toolan and Murray Kinsella dial up Gavan Casey on the therapy couch to provide the post-mortem to Ireland’s World Cup implosion at the hands of New Zealand


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