Ireland captain Peter O'Mahony. Alamy Stock Photo

'He's the heartbeat of our team' - O'Mahony leads Ireland over the line amid retirement talk

Rumours about the Ireland’s captain’s future dominated the day as Andy Farrell’s team wrapped up back-to-back titles.

1.15pm: PETER O’MAHONY’S NAME ripples through the carriage as The 42′s train rumbles towards Pearse Street station. Throughout the morning rumours the Cork man will wear the Ireland jersey for the final time today have been gaining traction. With a Six Nations title on the line, what it way it would be to go out. The script writes itself. A home game on St Patrick’s weekend, bowing out as Ireland captain with another medal in the pocket. O’Mahony has always taken special pleasure in beating Scotland and this would be the sweetest victory of the lot.

We get off a few stops early and take in the pre-game sights and sounds along Merrion Row and Pembroke Road before winding our way into Lansdowne Road. The sellers outside the ground are still shifting the last few ‘SEXTON:LEGEND’ scarves they had made up for last year’s Six Nations. There’d have been a few quid to be made from an O’Mahony print this weekend. The travelling Scotland fans aren’t in confident mood but they’re here in good numbers and high spirits, despite the light rain slowly soaking their kilts. Win or lose, there’s a big day out to be had in Dublin. 

a-scottish-fan-near-the-aviva-stadium-ahead-of-the-game A Scotland fan outside Aviva Stadium before the game. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

3.30pm: There’s almost an hour gone in Cardiff, where Italy are 18-0 up on Wales in the early game. The media room in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium is busier than usual, with the pre-game food already dangerously low a good hour and a half before kick-off. Anyone we talk to fancies an Ireland win, with perhaps an extra degree of caution given last weekend’s loss in Twickenham. We grab a plateful of grub and pick up a programme. O’Mahony’s face is plastered on the cover.

4.15pm: How quickly the mood shifts. We’ve made our way up to our vantage point high in the West Stand and there’s plenty of commotion on the pitch. While we were busy trying to read O’Mahony’s body language, Hugo Keenan has left the warm-up, with Jordan Larmour ditching his bib and taking the fullback’s place in the remaining drills. It’s soon confirmed Keenan is out with a hip injury, with Larmour thrown in to start a Test game for the first time since July 2021. The news lands around the same time the TV cameras zoom in on some strapping on Jack Crowley’s knee. On Virgin Media, Tommy Martin puts the O’Mahony rumours to Andy Farrell during his pre-game interview. “I don’t know anything,” Farrell replies. “I know he’s ready for a big game.”

4.45pm: As the last chorus of Ireland’s Call bellows around the ground, O’Mahony has his head fixed toward the grass, wiping his eyes clear as the song’s finish is met with a huge roar. The Ireland captain took something of a backseat in the build-up, holding his team back to allow Tadhg Beirne take the first steps out of the tunnel on the occasion of his 50th Test cap. The last few stragglers take their seats. It’s almost showtime. 

peter-omahony-during-the-national-anthem Ireland captain Peter O'Mahony during the anthems. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

4.58pm: After a nervy start, Ireland finally give the home crowd something to cheer about. Dan Sheehan might never score an easier try in his life. Standing at the back of a Scotland lineout in their own 22, George Turner drops his throw right into the Sheehan’s arms. The hooker gratefully accepts the gift, Crowley converting the score to hand Ireland an early 7-3 lead. It’s about the only thing that’s gone right for Ireland – James Lowe seeing an attempted exit kick blocked before the same player is pinged for crawling on the floor right in front of referee Matthew Carley, allowing Finn Russell – the only player in the Scotland team to have beaten Ireland in the Six Nations – to kick the first points of the evening. There’s tension in the air, but Sheehan’s score eases the nerves.

5.33pm. It’s a contest, but it’s no classic. Scotland are defending well while also doing everything they can to keep Ireland in the lead. A huge Scotland turnover in their own 22 prompts Farrell to raise his hands to his head in the coaches box. The visitors shape to make a handful of promising attacks, but can’t punch a hole. Ben White looks to the heavens when he knocks on at the base of a ruck, and gets the reply he prayed for as Crowley snaps the resulting penalty wide. With the clock in the red Ireland move through a nice passage of attacking play, but it ends when Caelan Doris’ attempted pass out to O’Mahony sails out of touch. O’Mahony doesn’t break stride as he turns for the tunnel. His teammates follow.

5.48pm: The teams run out for the second half. Scotland have 40 minutes to turn a one-point deficit into a famous win and their first victory in Dublin since 2010. Ireland have 40 minutes to ensure a championship which promised so much doesn’t disintegrate on home soil. A wristband lands on our desk. If Ireland go on to win, the plan is to bring a handful of media pitchside for post-match interviews immediately after the trophy lift. We take the thin strip of paper and stuff it in our pocket, far from convinced it will see the light of day. Ireland begin the second half with intent, O’Mahony carrying hard and Lowe taking on defenders before Crowley kicks his third penalty of the game. The crowd belt out The Fields for the first time. Four points up with just over 35 minutes to go, Ireland have been far from their best but the championship is still theirs to lose.

peter-omahony-claims-a-line-out O'Mahony wins a lineout. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

6.03pm: Ireland think they have their second try when Tadhg Furlong muscles over. Every replay is greeted with a greater cheer as the home support feel the Wexford man has grounded the ball, but all four stands howl their displeasure when Carley and his TMO stick with the on-field decision of no try. Scotland are hanging on. Thankfully for Ireland, their visitors are offering nothing in attack. They try to negotiate their way through Ireland’s defence again but keep running into dead ends before a Russell knock-on saps their momentum.

6.25pm: Sweet, sweet release. The Aviva is alive after a rather horrible 20 minutes of rugby. Ireland have been hammering and hammering without making a dent. Calvin Nash slips inside four Scottish defenders before losing the ball inches from the line. It’s one of many botched opportunites. Rónan Kelleher, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne and Bundee Aki all charge for the line before Garry Ringrose spills the ball forward. Robbie Henshaw is the next to have a go, the centre muscling over but held up by Cameron Redpath. After O’Mahony exits to a standing ovation after a big shift, Andrew Porter drives through from a quick-tap penalty, firing the ball into the crowd as all the tension finally drains from the crowd. It’s been an awful afternoon for heartrates around the country but for the first time today, it’s feels likes there’s going to be a party in Dublin 4. We fumble in our pockets for the wristband. 

6.45pm: After a bumpy finish, Ireland get over the line. The Aviva briefly fell silent when Huw Jones slipped free and stepped Lowe to score under the posts, the converted try cutting Ireland’s lead to four points, but the home side see out the final moments before Lowe boots the ball into the stands and the stadium erupts. Zombie blasts from the PA. Ireland are back-to-back Six Nations champions.

7.04pm: A handful of media are shuttled down to the sideline where we watch the trophy presentation. Garry Ringrose drops to his knees to high-five Cian Healy’s young children. Aki carries his kids while O’Mahony engages in a post-game debrief with Conor Murray and Jack Conan. A few moments previously, he told Virgin Media he “doesn’t know” if he’s played his last match for Ireland. He heads off to lift the trophy with Tadhg Furlong, who lost his father, James, in December.

nico-and-jai-sons-of-james-lowe-and-jamison-gibson-park-with-the-guinness-six-nations-trophy Nico and Jai, sons of James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park, with the Guinness Six Nations trophy Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The players take in a slow lap of the pitch as children fall over the gold streamers strewn over the turf. On the final turn, Crowley stops for a chat, medal hanging from his neck. Ireland’s out-half talks about the nerves he felt on the day and throughout the tournament, and finishes with a word on his captain, who rounds up a few teammates for a photo with a fan in a wheelchair, before heading for his family.

“He is what you see,” Crowley says of O’Mahony. “There’s no cover to him, he’s a leader and to play alongside him for these last few years has been a privilege.

“He’s someone I have such respect for and the group have such respect for because he’s himself and he leads with his actions. Hopefully we’ll have him longer.” 

“He’s an absolute legend,” adds Joe McCarthy, towering over his interviewers as the rain picks up.

“He’s the heartbeat of our team. Playing in the games with him, it’s the confidence that he brings to the team. I’d love him to keep going. I think everyone feels the same.

“He’s a special, special player.”

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