EVERYONE INVOLVED IN Irish rugby will have their own memory of the closing minutes of the 2009 win over Wales, those moments that secured a Grand Slam for the first time in 61 years.
Munster flanker Peter O’Mahony recalls having just returned home after helping the Ireland U20s to a 9-6 success over their Welsh counterparts in Llanelli, but admits he found the denouement emotionally testing.
“We’d only just come back from our own Six Nations match and we watched the game at Ian Madigan’s house. I remember I couldn’t watch for the last kick; it meant so much to everyone and it was a great occasion.
“You definitely remember where you were for that one.”
Alongside O’Mahony in that U20s group in ’09 were Madigan, Jack McGrath, Conor Murray, Rhys Ruddock and Dave Kearney, all of whom have been [or in Madigan's case, may be] involved in the senior Six Nations campaign in 2014.
Clearly there is no Grand Slam on the line this time around, but championship wins are few and far between for Ireland. New memories can be forged in Paris.
With 22 senior caps at this stage, O’Mahony is no longer an inexperienced youngster but the 24-year-old admits that this week has been different to any other in his two-year international career.
Of course, you feel the pressure. It’s without a doubt the biggest week of my career so far. You’re certainly putting pressure on yourself, you feel it from outside factors, but you try and put it to bed and turn it to your favour, use it as motivation.”
Having sat out the seven-try win over Italy last weekend, O’Mahony says “the body is feeling great” and that he is coming off the back of “a great training week.”
Joe Schmidt will need the Cork man at his ball-stealing best this evening in the Stade de France, particularly with the French back row of Alexandre Lapandry, Damien Chouly and Louis Picamoles looking well balanced.
Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Reminders of Ireland’s record in Paris have been inescapable this week, but O’Mahony insists it is merely reflective of French competence.
“I think it’s because it’s such a tough place to come and play. Obviously the French are hugely passionate and are a hugely able team. They have quality players from one to 15 and a serious bench.
“When they’re playing at home they’re even stronger again and it’s a very intimidating place to come and play. This is one of the tough places to come and get a win. That’s the reason we’ve struggled; because they’re a quality outfit.”
And yet, Ireland approach this fixture with far less apprehension that they have done in recent years. O’Mahony stresses that they are not looking back in any way, but says Schmidt’s squad will take encouragement from the momentum built in recent months.
While everything but the 80 minutes this evening is “irrelevant,” there is belief within this group.
We’ve taken confidence from the way we’ve gone about our work in the last few weeks and we’ve taken confidence from the way we’ve trained this week. We haven’t talked about us being special, we haven’t talked about this game being anything other than what it is.
“It’s a cup final for us. We take confidence from the way we’ve trained this week and it’s about getting our job roles right. That’s all we’ve talked about.”
This evening’s game is a thrilling proposition, with conditions in Paris set to be perfect, the French determined to prove their critics wrong and Ireland continuing to grow as a team. These are the days professional rugby players live for, fans too.
O’Mahony acknowledges the pressure he and his teammates are under, but agrees that they are in a privileged position.
“Since you’re small, you’ve wanted to play in games like this, for trophies. It’s why you play, it’s the reason the sport is so great; to compete in these kind of games.”
France: B Dulin; Y Huget, M Bastareaud, G Fickou, M Medard; R Tales, M Machenaud; T Domingo, D Szarzewski, N Mas, P Pape (cpt), Y Maestri, L Picamoles, A Lapandry, D Chouly.Replacements: G Guirado, V Debaty, R Slimani, A Flanquart, S Vahaamahina, W Lauret, JM Doussain, M Mermoz.
Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray: C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D Toner, P O’Connell (Capt.) P O’Mahony, C Henry, J Heaslip.
Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, M Moore, I Henderson, J Murphy, E Reddan, I Madigan, F McFadden.
Referee: S Walsh (ARU).