PETER O’MAHONY HAS been through two training sessions with the Ireland team since he was appointed captain but faced his biggest, to date, this afternoon – the press briefing.
The Munster back-row was joined by interim head coach Les Kiss and team manager Mick Kearney at the Tuesday gab with the media. Kiss, keeping the coaching hot seat toasty for Joe Schmidt, congratulated hooker Rory Best on his elevation the Lions squad, while Kearney revealed centre James Downey is on stand-by for injury doubt Stuart Olding.
The fourth question was O’Mahony’s first to deal with in his new role and he handled it deftly.
He told TheScore.ie, “It’s a huge honour for me and my family. I was delighted to get the call and I was obviously delighted for Bestie to get called into the Lions squad… we all thought he deserved it in the first place and we should have been sending him our text messages of congratulations.
“I’m hugely honoured to captain the side over there and it’s an exciting time for the squad. There is a good mix of experience and new blood there… We’ve had two days of training and meetings and have set our stall out with where we want to be and what we want to take out of the tour.”
The 23-year-old added, “There are certain things that you have to do that are different (as captain) but, when it comes to being on the pitch, you try to do what you normally do. I won’t be carrying myself any differently.”
Incoming Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was at the Carton House training session today. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)
Once Best was plucked from the Irish squad by Lions coach Warren Gatland,
Kiss said O’Mahony was the obvious candidate to lead the squad against the USA and Canada. “It has been noticed from an early age that Peter has this capacity for strong leadership,” he said. “That has shone through with Munster and with the underage stuff with Ireland. It’s a great opportunity for Peter to feel what it is like to take a team on tour and across the water. It is something that won’t sit upon his shoulder with any stress.”
His first job as captain came ‘a good few years ago’ (more like 12) when, under legendary Cork Constitution coach Fred Casey, a young O’Mahony led an U-12 team at a tournament in France.
Was he required to make any inspirational speeches before leading the troops out to face the hardy 11-year-old French opponents? “At Under 12s,” he replied, “no, probably not. With Schools Rugby, Senior Cup, Munster Schools, Irish 19s – they were probably more of the all-round captaincy, making speeches and stuff.”
He added, “Sometimes there are times to talk up and other times you don’t need to say anything when the boys are in the right place. It comes with experience; you get a feel for it.
Some people think that, as captain, you have to shout and roar but when you are playing provincial and international rugby you are playing with lads that have probably captained their own provinces… There’s a time and a place where you need to have a word but there’s a time and a place where you need to shut up, and get out, and do it.”
Kiss declared that every player will be under observation to assess ‘how they handle’ the summer tour and Test-match pressure. O’Mahony is already looking beyond the summer matches. “There are 20 Tests before the World Cup, ” he said. “That’s not too many. It’s less than a Rabo season.”