DESPITE THE ONGOING doubt over his own participation in the opening weekend of the Heineken Cup, Peter O’Mahony insists Munster are focused on the challenge ahead and says his team are aiming to create a new legacy.
The Cork man took a blow to the head courtesy of Sean Cronin’s knee in Saturday night’s inter-provincial derby against Leinster, but has played down suggestions he suffered concussion, saying he is “feeling very good now.”
Rob Penney will be hoping his captain makes a full recovery in time for the trip to Murrayfield to take on a team who are bottom of the Pro12. Judging purely on league form, Munster should have no trouble overcoming Edinburgh and ensuring a winning start to their European campaign, but O’Mahony stresses that a different competition means a different Edinburgh performance.
“Away to Edinburgh, I wouldn’t call that easy. It sounds a tough place to go and play and obviously they’re a hugely proud team. They have a great record in the Heineken Cup at home, so we are under no illusions. It is going to be a seriously tough kick-off.”
Munster’s 34-23 victory over the Scots in the first round of the RaboDirect Pro12 is relatively fresh in the memory and Edinburgh’s defence that day brought new meaning to the word porous. There hasn’t been too much improvement from Alan Solomons’ side in that regard since, but O’Mahony is taking nothing for granted.
It’s hugely different. The first one or two games in the Pro 12 are a huge difference to the first round of the Heineken Cup and obviously the flip side is you are away from home. There’s a big difference there.
“Obviously when we are playing each other a good few times this year, we probably know each other quite well by the end of it, but as I said we are under no illusions. Away to Edinburgh in the first round of the Heineken Cup is going to be extremely tough.”
A week after Munster’ trip to Scotland, Gloucester arrive at Thomond Park to renew a rivalry that gave European rugby the much-celebrated Miracle Match in 2003. So does that kind of history add as much of an extra spice for the players as it does for the media and supporters?
“It does, but you can’t be too worried about the past in this game any more. You have to kick on. It’s another game in the Heineken Cup for us. There are big stakes at every round at this stage, from round one to six. So we are not looking past Edinburgh, but it is going to be a big one.”
That refusal to dwell on the past is something that has been a focus for O’Mahony since assuming the captaincy at the start of the season. The 23-year-old acknowledges what players like Ronan O’Gara and Doug Howlett have brought to Munster, but continues to say that the new faces are ready to make their own history.
O’Mahony watches Munster’s squad training session on Tuesday. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
“You can’t replace people like that who have been around for that long and who have that much experience, but these things happen. That’s life.
“There is no real point in looking back. We are a young squad but we are here to set our own destiny, make our own legacy. We can’t be living off what the boys did in 2006 and 2008. We have got to go out and create our own legacy.”
Last season’s run to the Heineken Cup semi-finals was the first exposure to top-level European rugby for many in the Munster squad, and O’Mahony is certain that experience will be evident in their improvement this time around.
“As much as it was heartbreaking to lose against Clermont, it showed that we were well capable of competing with these teams, and beating these teams. Obviously, there were a lot of young players involved, a lot of debutantes in the Heineken Cup, and it was hugely positive to see how guys reacted to it and getting out of the group.
“The Racing game at home, to get out of the group, the Harlequins game and the Clermont game showed we were well capable as a squad. That is very positive and it gives guys confidence coming into this year.”
A more recent area of encouragement for O’Mahony was the decisive performance of Ian Keatley at out-half against Leinster last weekend. While the Munster captain highlights that JJ Hanrahan is also a “class footballer,” he says Keatley stepped up to the mark in a big way at Thomond Park on Saturday.
I thought Keats was class. He played some incredible rugby in the right areas, implemented our game plan very well and for me, when I was on, you could feel the presence that he was there and he was playing the rugby in the right areas. He impressed me hugely at the weekend.”
It is the talent of players like Keatley that makes O’Mahony so insistent that his Munster squad can create their own legacy. Munster will always be known for the Heineken Cup successes in 2006 and 2008, but this season is all about adding another layer to the existing legend.
“I was there for both of them [the Heineken Cup wins]. I was there in Thomond for the Miracle Match. They were obviously good times for Munster and there is a lot of those games that are embedded in the history of Munster. The current squad knows that, it’s where our standards come from.
“Those standards have been set there and sometimes it’s tough. But it comes within us to keep those standards high and to have them right up there. We want to be winning trophies at the end of the season.”