Peter O'Mahony overreacts to purported overreaction to Ireland's woes
A players' player. A captain and senior figure that backs his teammates to the hilt.
Peter O'Mahony is all of the above and, when it comes to his playing abilities, so much more.
He was earmarked as a future Munster captain from as young as 18 and was leading the province out, in the PRO12, two weeks before he turned 22. His Ireland debut arrived a year later and he has been an inspirational figure for province and country ever since.
As a captain, he takes the flak and defends those he leads into battle. Ask him about his teammates lacking intensity and he'll stare you to hell and back.
2018 was one of his finest years in a green jersey as he helped Ireland to a Grand Slam, out-fought Pocock and Hooper to avenge a Brisbane loss in Melbourne then Sydney, and was at his gnarliest in the November win over the All Blacks.
O'Mahony and his Irish teammates were feted at the end-of-year World Rugby awards - best team, player and coach - but they said all the right things about staying focused and looking to improve in 2019.
Fans, pundits and media members talked up their 2019 Grand Slam chances and said they should justifiably target winning the World Cup. There is no shame in that. The All Blacks were still the heavy favourites but Ireland were well set.
The 2019 Guinness Six Nations was a thump of reality. Ireland were comprehensively beaten by England and Wales in their first and last games of the championship. Were it not for consolation tries in both games, Ireland would have lost 30-15 and 25-0.
After that opening day shell-shock, wrought by the English, we criticised many of the Ireland fans that turned and walked out, with six minutes left, as Henry Slade scored an intercept try. This Ireland team deserved the backing of their fans, we argued, after the deeds of 2018.
Ireland pieced themselves together and picked up wins over the three worst sides in the championship (statistically and actually) over the past five years. From 2015 to 2019, over five championships, Scotland, France and Italy have shared 4th, 5th and 6th places.
The games that mattered were England and Wales and Ireland were badly beaten in both. In his post-match assessment of the 25-7 loss to Wales, even Rob Kearney stopped himself when that well-worn 'fine margins' comment was given another airing:
"The manner in some of the games, you can't say that the margins are small because, you know, there have been a couple of heavy enough defeats. But, you know, we still have a huge amount of confidence in how we are as a team, in terms of what we can achieve as team. We just need to be realistic that there's lots of other really good teams out there too."
In Ireland, there was a lot of introspection but very little of it overstepped the mark. Barring some hype-men columnists and individuals on social media, the reaction to Ireland finishing third was measured.
The concern in this country is that a side that has historically underperformed at World Cups has lost its' mojo coming into another World Cup. Over on BBC's Rugby Union Weekly podcast, host Chris Jones asked 'Are Ireland about to do an Ireland?'
Ireland have never got beyond the quarter final stages of a tournament - if they were lucky to get that far - that contains about nine good sides. The rest are happy to be there.
Perhaps some of the concerns expressed about tactical revamps, loosening the shackles, getting in new voices on the coaching staff and the form of star players is down in part to that underlying fear that we may have peaked a year too soon.
Overreaction? Not at all. Not from the majority.
According to O'Mahony, though, absolutely everyone in Ireland has overreacted to that third place finish and the team's dip in form.
Peter O'Mahony pretty clear on some of the reaction to Ireland's Six Nations pic.twitter.com/GstuGbfWWN
— Sinéad Kissane (@sineadkissane) March 25, 2019
The Cork native was equally bullish in his briefing with the print media. He told The Irish Times:
"I think there was a strange reaction to some of the stuff that’s been going on for the last few weeks, to be honest, but that’s part of it. I mean, we’ve won 22 of the 25 games or something.
"I just felt there was a bit of a strange reaction to it but look, this is part of the game we’re in and I’ve certainly learned better over the last few years to say ‘Right, that’s done now’. Because, as I said, it’s too big a week for me to be hanging around."
Asking O'Mahony about Ireland during Munster game-week - or vice versa - is always likely to get short shrift but his comments were dismissive of a lot of genuine fans, the same genuine fans Joe Schmidt asked to back the team to get it right in Japan.
Ulster and Ireland captain Rory Best was more measured in his take on the national side's stuttering Six Nations campaign. "The biggest thing that disappoints us," he told UTV, "is the way we played and probably that last game - to go out with the whimper that we did - that wasn't us. We're going to have to ask some really tough questions in the summer when we get together again."
If anyone is planting an elbow through the emergency glass right now, they are in the extreme minority.
There has been no huge overreaction to Ireland's Six Nations failings, merely a reaction.
Rory Best admits tough questions need answering. Just because some tough questions are being asked outside the circle does not mean many of them are not valid.