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Munster changes, the trophy hunt, Ireland's hurt - O'Mahony refreshed for rugby return

The 30-year-old feels he has benefitted from the lockdown.

BACK INTO THE swing of things over the past week with a Bronco test, weights sessions, and the rest of the slog that’s involved in pre-season, Peter O’Mahony is already beginning to feel like the lockdown is in the distant past.

But the 30-year-old has been appreciative of the opportunity that rugby’s shutdown from March onwards provided. It meant family time and a chance to get a breather from the non-stop battering that’s involved in professional rugby.

While some have already written him off as being in decline, the Munster and Ireland flanker has a feeling that the extended break has been good for his longevity.

“I think it was great,” said O’Mahony today. “For someone around my age who, even speaking to a few of the guys who have finished up, I haven’t really had any long-term injury, touch wood, since the 2015 World Cup.

peter-omahony GreenAware ambassador Peter O'Mahony. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“So I’ve pretty much as good as played every game since then. It’s been a big workload on my body.

“I probably couldn’t have asked for better timing to have 12 or 13 weeks off from rugby to rejuvenate. Who knows, it might give me another couple of years at the other end of it.”

There is much to look forward to in rugby over the next year and beyond, including the Lions tour of South Africa next summer – something O’Mahony will surely have in the back of his mind after the frustration involved in 2017.

But he stresses that his attention is focused only on the challenges involved when rugby gets going again with Munster’s clash against Leinster on the weekend of 22/23 August in the Aviva Stadium.

By 19 September, we will have a Pro14 winner and O’Mahony is as intent as ever to lift his first trophy as Munster captain. The lockdown was good for him personally and O’Mahony believes it was beneficial for his province too.

“I’ve always said there is a huge hunger there but we needed to change some things that obviously weren’t working for us,” he explained. “I think we’ve used the time well as a group to change some things that hopefully make a difference over the next few months and might make us be able to take that step further.

“I’ve been delighted with the way we’ve used the time, to be honest with you, we’ve had some great meetings that have changed some things in the set-up that will hopefully make us better as a group and make us more competitive, which is what we need.”

Without going into detail, O’Mahony adds that some of those changes Munster have made are around leadership, the forward pack, and “as players personally,” leaving them in a strong position to drive on under head coach Johann van Graan.

peter-omahony O'Mahony at Munster training last week. Source: ©INPHO

O’Mahony feels that Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree are now better bedded into their roles after joining last year and says they’re “putting their stamp on the Munster team at the moment.”

There were negative headlines for Munster during the lockdown as James Cronin was banned for one month due to an anti-doping violation that was deemed to be unintentional and due a dispensing error by the pharmacy.

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“Look, James is well able to look after himself,” said O’Mahony of whether he spoke to the prop in his position as Munster captain. “He had that to sort out and that was up to him really. It wasn’t really up to us to get involved. That was his own gig and he needed to sort that, which he has done and that’s pretty much that.”

Asked what lessons Munster can take from the saga, O’Mahony said he didn’t have anything else to add on the matter.

He also opted against commenting on Rugby Players Ireland’s current negotiations with the IRFU regarding possible salary cuts for players, given that he is part of RPI’s executive board.

With Munster keen to end their 2019/20 campaign on a high note before launching swiftly into the 2020/21 season, O’Mahony could be a busy man in a red jersey, although Ireland hope to be back in action soon too.

Their two postponed Six Nations games against Italy and France are currently pencilled in to be played on the last two weekends of October, with potentially another four or even five Tests following depending on how World Rugby finalises the autumn calendar.

O’Mahony was dropped to the bench for Ireland’s Six Nations opener this year but found himself sprung into action early on against Scotland when Caelan Doris suffered a concussion.

ireland-v-wales-guinness-six-nations-aviva-stadium O'Mahony responded strongly to being dropped in the Six Nations. Source: PA

The Cork man duly excelled against the Scots and then Wales before Andy Farrell’s men’s form dipped in a painful defeat away to England.

That was to be their final game before lockdown but as the resumption of rugby looms, O’Mahony can take encouragement from his most recent form – even if the back row competition for Ireland is only going to get more ferocious with the likes of Dan Leavy and Jack Conan back in the mix.

“It was a tough way to go, preparing for a game all week and all of a sudden you had nothing,” says O’Mahony of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign being halted by the Covid-19 outbreak. “It was very strange but these things happen

“I was happy with some aspects [of his performances]. There’s always lots of stuff to work on, in my opinion.

“It was a pity to go out the way we went out in our last game because I think we’re better than that. That was probably the thing that hurt the most.

“Hopefully we’ll get a chance to get back out there, some of us certainly will, we don’t know who yet but we need to put that last performance right.”

Peter O’Mahony is highlighting how small changes in our day-to-day lives make a big impact on the environment as part of the GreenAware #DoBitsHelpLots campaign. With GreenAware, reducing our carbon footprint has never been easier, with their range of compostable bags that are durable, leak-resistant and made from plant-based ingredients.

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Murray Kinsella

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