'It just doesn't feel like the other knee': O'Mahony's 2015 injury can't just be forgotten

The blindside no longer thinks about his ACL when running out for games, but he has to keep it in mind throughout the rest of his work week.

TAKE A LOOK at Peter O’Mahony. What’s the first word you might use to describe him?

Peter O’Mahony celebrates Source: James Crombie/INPHO

For most, it might be ‘tough’, ‘hard’ or another synonym that might look a little stranger in front of ‘as nails’ but no less apt for the Munster captain.

So when O’Mahony speaks about a lingering odd feeling in his knee, lasting longer than he had expected it to, you can trust that there was real discomfort.

Paul O’Connell’s early retirement-inducing hamstring injury against France in the pool stage of the 2015 World Cup overshadowed O’Mahony’s excruciating injury 15 minutes into the second half of the same game. That was 11 October 2015; O’Mahony was carted off the field in the Millennium Stadium and would not play again for the rest of the season.

The blindside made his comeback to rugby 355 days later, 1 October 2016, as a replacement for Munster against Zebre and was back playing 80 minutes for Ireland in November. But against Canada.

The big glamorous Test matches against New Zealand came and went without him.

In hindsight, the evidence that something wasn’t quite right with him is all there. He featured off the bench against France and Wales in the 2017 Six Nations, then was due for the same role in the Championship finale against England, when a twist of fate took Jamie Heaslip out of the game and thrust O’Mahony on course for a man-of-the-match-winning performance… not to mention Lions captaincy.

Peter O'Mahony down injured Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Yet even now, his knee has a way of making him remember the ACL damage done in 2015.

“It takes a long time for your knee to feel normal again, which it is starting to do,” says O’Mahony in Carton House yesterday.

“It’s been a long time, nearly two years (back) coming up, so it’s feeling good and I’m feeling fit again.”

O’Mahony’s performances of late certainly haven’t given the impression that he feels anything short of 100% and he played through all 160 minutes of Six Nations action so far. The right knee is something he has to work with and be conscious of even if the pain has subsided.

“It just doesn’t feel like the other knee, you know?

It’s invasive, it’s a big surgery. Not too long ago it finished a lot of people, but luckily thanks to lots of breakthroughs it’s now quite a standard procedure. But it’s a big procedure, but you hear of guys coming back after six or nine months – it wasn’t for me, it was sore for a lot longer than that and it takes time to get back to that sharpness.

“I feel like I’m getting there now,” he adds, “you’re rehabbing all the time and it’s always an area that you have to keep an eye on and you have to keep strength around, keep on top of.

“It’s not really one moment where you think ‘it’s better’. You’ve to keep on top of it all of the time.”

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An ongoing concern isn’t a surprise to O’Mahony. Before making his comeback he signalled that he was well-warned that it could take two years to be fully rid of injury and recovered. Knowing the path is one thing though, walking it is never as easy.

“Because a lot of your rehab stuff is very day-by-day focused, it’s hard to see sometimes the long picture at it. You know you’ve a bit to go, you know? Even when you’re coming back for your first game, you’re wondering if it was the right decision or not.

“At the time of running on to the pitch you’re second-guessing yourself. But you get through it and, game-by-game, you start feeling better, trusting it more and more and now, luckily, you just don’t think about it.”

Peter O'Mahony with Tommaso Castello Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Throughout last year’s streak-busting performance against England, there was a demeanour about O’Mahony which suggested he may have been out to prove a point as well as just revel in being back on a stage befitting his talents. However, the Corkman says he understands why any coach would have bided their time in pushing him back into battle.

“(From coaches) there’s leeway and there’s understanding, but they’re not going to put you in if you’re not performing. They’re not going to say: ‘Ah, he played well for us 12 months ago or 18 months ago, and I’m going to pick him this weekend because he did that’.

“That’s not the way the business is run, so when I started getting back, guys who were fitter and had more game-time and were playing better than me with Ireland were getting picked, and so they should have been because I wasn’t there yet, I wasn’t ready for it.

“But I got myself there in the end, it takes time.”

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Sean Farrell

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