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'Axel's a rugby man, so he would have told us all 'Play your game'' - O'Mahony
Peter O’Mahony has had a whirlwind year but is now ready to lead the Lions against the All Blacks.

Murray Kinsella reports from Auckland

IF FEELS LIKE much longer than eight months since a grief-stricken Peter O’Mahony sat in Munster’s high performance centre in UL doing his best to describe what Anthony Foley meant to him.

Just three days after the Munster legend had passed away in Paris, it was difficult to watch the emotion pouring out of O’Mahony and it is hard to imagine what he was going through at that time.

Peter O'Mahony Dan Sheridan / INPHO O'Mahony after being named Lions captain. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

But the Cork man summoned the strength to express his sheer sadness at losing his hero, his mentor, his friend and his coach.

Munster committed to doing Foley proud for the remainder of that season and O’Mahony has been doing as much ever since.

Now, after being named to captain the Lions in their first Test against the All Blacks on Saturday, O’Mahony is sure that Foley’s advice to him would have been to simply play his own game.

“Axel’s a rugby man, so he would have told us all ‘Play your game, do what you do and what you know.’ He’d have said there’s a reason there’s 45 players here now who have been selected.

So just go out and play the game you know and what you’re here for. There’s no point in trying to be something you’re not over here.

“You’ve been picked for a reason, so if you go out and play as well as you can, no one’s going to fault you for that.”

O’Mahony hopes that Foley “would be proud” of his achievement, but he insists that this first Test is not about him, instead pointing to the entire match day 23 and also the other Lions who are “hugely disappointed” to have missed out on making the cut.

The Munster man will be relying on leaders around him too, and Lions head coach Warren Gatland feels those figures will be important for O’Mahony.

“Peter has done a good job and he is chuffed about it,” says Gatland. “He’s lucky that he’s got a lot of experience around him.

Peter O'Mahony and Warren Gatland Dan Sheridan / INPHO O'Mahony alongside Gatland today. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“We have been very pleased with the micro-chat within the squad with players contributing to the talk, whether it’s been Sean O’Brien, Sam [Warburton] has been been excellent, Alun Wyn Jones and George Kruis, Owen Farrell as well, so there’s a lot of leadership within the group.

“There’s not people talking for the sake of it, there’s not white noise, it’s clarity and it’s succinct. Peter has got to concentrate on doing his job, which he does well, and he will get plenty of support from other players too.”

Being part of such a balanced back row unit alongside Taulupe Faletau and O’Brien will be helpful for O’Mahony in getting his duties done at Eden Park, with the 27-year-old pointing to the Welsh number eight as “the outstanding player so far.”

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O’Mahony has captained the vast majority of the teams he has played for across his career, but it’s clear that this is the greatest challenge for him yet.

It’s a huge task obviously with the calibre of player New Zealand have, their record at Eden Park is impressive,” says the Cork Con clubman.

“But it’s going to be a different animal at the weekend, there are going to be 20,000-odd Lions fans there. To be involved in a game of this magnitude is where all these players who have been picked want to be, challenging against the best in the world.

“There would be something seriously wrong if there wasn’t excitement with the week that’s in it. There is a huge amount of energy in there.”

There may be excitement and energy in buckets, but the Lions are going to need to dig deeper than they ever have before to end the All Blacks’ incredible record of 37 Test wins in a row at Eden Park.

Peter O'Mahony Dan Sheridan / INPHO O'Mahony is the 11th Irish Lions Test captain. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

At some stages they will look to O’Mahony for his leadership and many of them have little doubt he will provide it.

“I think Pete brings a dog, edge, a hunger and hard work,” says his Ireland team-mate Tadhg Furlong.

“He leads a lot of the time by his actions and a lot of the unseen work that he does. I couldn’t speak highly enough of him as a captain. When you go into the trenches and the game becomes tight, he’s the man everyone rows in behind.”

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