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02nd Feb 2018

The Making of Peter O’Mahony

Jack O'Toole

‘After a while in the academy I told my grandad go to the bookies and put €10 on Peter O’Mahony to captain Ireland’ – Paul Rowley.

I was standing on the footpath outside of St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin pondering how we were going to get a taxi from Merrion Row to UCD.

Merrion Row isn’t exactly like Times Square, but a week before Christmas, it can at times feel like it is, as Sean McMahon and I stood there watching taxi after taxi drive right by us.

‘Conor [Murray] was good wasn’t he?’ I said to Sean after we eventually managed to hail one down.

‘Yeah, he usually is,’ he replied.

We had both just made our way from a nearby Pinergy sponsorship launch where Murray had been speaking to assembled media.

We had talked to the Munster scrum-half about the province’s upcoming trip to Leicester, Johan van Graan’s arrival at the club, and of course, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander’s ongoing contract negotiations.

‘Do you think they’ll be able to keep Peter?’ I asked Sean as we made our way towards UCD for the Leinster Rugby press conference.

‘I don’t know,’ he replies. ‘It depends on what offers he has from France or England, but personally, I can’t see him leaving’.

Without a moment’s hesitation, the taxi driver chimed in: ‘He won’t leave. I know Peter, he won’t leave’.

‘You know him?’ I asked.

‘I do. His partner Jessica is my wife’s sister. I’ve known Peter for years, he’s an absolute gent’.

What are the odds? Of all the taxis to drive by us on Merrion Row, we end up hopping in with a driver who knows the man that we’ve just been talking about.

Naturally, we spend the rest of the journey talking to the driver about Peter J. O’Mahony.

We asked him who is Peter O’Mahony? How long has he known him for? What was he like back then and who is he now? What does Munster mean to him and how did he handle the Lions series?

I left the taxi intrigued. Former Munster second-row Donncha O’Callaghan had said a few days earlier that Munster could not afford to lose O’Mahony to another club, while former Leinster fly-half Andy Dunne had said that O’Mahony had become ‘Mr. Munster’, and that he had essentially emerged as the new Paul O’Connell.

If he is to be known as ‘Mr. Munster’, I wanted to know how did he earn that title?

How did the kid that used to stand outside the Cork Con dressing room looking for a pair of socks, the teenager that used to work behind the club bar, the academy player who refused to leave the gym, how did that person become the most important player in the province?

High standards, sheer determination and relentless drive was seemingly the answer.

Brian Hickey (Cork Con coach)

My earliest memory of Pete would have been as a four-year-old with a ball in his hand at Cork Con. He was down at the club from a very early age.

Brian Walsh (Cork Con coach)

He would have been around the club a lot and he would have collected glasses at the bar as a kid. Anytime Con was playing, he was there, regardless of his age.

When he was younger he would have been one of the kids trying to get socks off the players, and then when he was a little older he worked in the bar.

He would have been one of the kids on the pitch afterwards kicking the ball around with his buddies. He was an ever-present at the club.

Paul Rowley (Academy teammate)

Pete is die-hard Con. There’s no two ways about it. He loves that club, himself and Simon Zebo both do.


There was a younger crew here at the time with Pete, Billy Holland, Stephen Archer, Duncan Williams, Brendan Cuttriss, Conrad O’Sullivan and a few others.

All the way through Pete’s time in Con you would have had Donal Lenihan, Jerry Holland, Michael Bradley, Ralph Keyes, Noel Murphy, Ronan O’Gara, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, all of these people that went before him to a certain extent, they all would have had an influence on him.

The club is such that all those people stay involved and interact with the players coming through. There’s a lot of influence, and to be fair to Peter, he would have absorbed a lot of things from those people, but he really was his own man.


He was always around the club a lot but I suppose at U12 you would have seen what a good player he was.

He was a big guy, a standout at that level, big for his age, but he was also a very clever player. I wouldn’t have seen him then for a few years as he went off to Pres (Presentation Brothers College) where he rose to a bit more prominence.

Paul Barr (school coach)

When he first came to Pres his team never won anything. They had been whipping boys as a team, which is not common at the school.

They didn’t win a lot of games, like the first time Peter would have beaten Christian’s (Christian Brothers College) would have been in the Munster Senior Cup.

After the Junior Cup I said to them you’ll have a big advantage if you improve your line-out because you’ll be lifting, and most other schools won’t be lifting until September when you come back.

Next thing you know Peter had all these sessions organised and from that point on the Pres line-out moved ahead of all the other schools. I think it stayed ahead as well and I think that’s down to Peter.


I remember going out to watch one of his school matches when I was involved with Munster.

I think he was only 16 at the time but he was running the line-outs, which I thought was a fair achievement given that there would have been some fellas there two years older than him.


We used to do line-outs in the morning before school and Peter was very precise about the requirements for this.

To be honest, as a coach, you sat back and let him do it, you didn’t try to intervene very much at all.

But I remember very clearly that (current Munster hooker) Niall Scannell’s first throw to Peter came in at about head high and Peter batted it down and didn’t even bother catching it.

He said to him “I won’t be catching that kind of rubbish Niall.”

I remember that clearly. He gave him the eye.


He always had high standards. My first memory of him at Munster was when we went away to Spala, Poland, for a few days for a training camp.

He had just come out of school and we had been in the academy for two or three years. He was a quiet lad, wasn’t very big, a bit sleight up top, but a grafter.

We went to Spala to get flogged pretty much. Two weight sessions a day, two pitch sessions a day, just between the academy players, the 13 of us.

We were doing a gym session one morning but at that age most of us just wanted to get ripped. We weren’t interested too much in Olympic lifting but a lot of it was down to vanity for most of us. But he was a bit different.

We were doing a bit of Olympic lifting, on a bit of an empty stomach, before we’d then go out and have some breakfast.

We did the session and all of us had finished up and I remember he wasn’t happy with the weight he had lifted. He was trying to lift more for this power clean.

A lot of us were chomping at the bit, including Conor Murray and a few others who have gone on to do some things, to go down and have some breakfast, but he wouldn’t leave the gym until he had lifted this weight.

I was thinking ‘Jesus, this fella is 18, are you joking me?’

We all huddled around him and were shouting at him to try and get the weight up. He managed to do it, and we all gave him pats on the back, but from that point onwards I thought ‘this guy is something different’.

It was a good trip to go on but for him it was almost like we were playing New Zealand that weekend.

It wasn’t down to him being an amazing rugby player, but it was just this mentality he had. It was strange at that age.

I suppose he mirrored and matched anything Micko [Mick O’Driscoll], Paul O’Connell or Ronan O’Gara were doing.

At that time he was just sponging everything up.

Eoghan Grace (Munster Academy teammate)

You had big time internationals in the senior squad at that stage. When you’re coming into that early doors you kind of don’t pipe up too much. You’re kept in your place.

You learn a lot. You learn from the best. It was a little bit of the old school method, you had to earn your stripes. It’s probably the reason Munster have been that successful, consistent machine throughout the years.

It was a good platform for young lads and especially for the likes of Peter. When you’ve got the likes of O’Connell, O’Callaghan and O’Gara, you learn what they’re good at and you can then try and add that to your own repertoire.

Ian Costello (Former Munster Academy co-ordinator)

I think it’s important to look at Paul O’Connell’s influence on him. Whether it was directly mentoring him or whether it was just working with someone like Paul.

Paul is an exceptional character, and I don’t say that lightly, there are very few people I would speak about like that. Somebody who just gives so much of themselves to their job, to their club, to their province, on and off the pitch, and that was what Paul was, the most selfless leader and the most invested person I have ever come across.

On the other side of it; the harshest critic, the most demanding of others, to a level where even as a coach you want to impress Paul with the quality of your work.

I think with Peter, as with all of us, we were fortunate to work with the best. I think what Peter did was that he captained the team when Paulie was still playing.

He learned from that and I think he has now completely emerged out from under Paul’s shadow and made that his own.


As a player you’d follow him as a leader. He’s a sound fella, he’s good craic off the pitch and he has every captain’s attritube. If I saw captain in the dictionary there would be a picture of him. He’s just the most rounded captain you could come across.

After a while in the academy I told my grandad ‘go to the bookies and put €10 on Peter O’Mahony to captain Ireland’.

I said this to him years ago and then when Pete did captain Ireland for the first time my Grandad rang me and said ‘I never put that 10er on’.

We had a good laugh about it but I can’t put my finger on it exactly why I thought he would go on to captain Ireland at the time, it’s just an impression I got from him. Looking back now it was glaringly obvious by the way he carried himself, but at the time I just thought ‘oh this guy is just a bit eager’.


 Peter has a strong presence. When he came into Munster as a very, very young development player he had a presence instantly in front of the squad.

He wasn’t afraid to challenge people. He wasn’t afriad to call people out for standards, whether that was in meetings or whether that was on the pitch, he didn’t mind who you were.

He challenged the young fellas as much as he challenged the more senior guys and my stand out memory is him calling out guys in meetings if things weren’t at a high enough level.

At 20’s level, instantly, there was no discussion around who our captain was going to be. He was a natural captain and that obviously carried right the way through from the Munster A team to the Lions.


Peter had a level of drive that lifted the team by the scruff of the neck. He really drove standards but that really only emerged in his last two years of school.

As a younger lad he was a little ill-disciplined. He could be a little bit wayward on the pitch in that he was a bit wild. The kind of player that was emotional and he hadn’t really learned how to control that emotion.

He would get into trouble with referees, would get caught on the wrong side of the law, so he wasn’t a natural captain then, but once he learned to bottle that and channel it better he started to become a natural captain.

He hadn’t won as a kid and I think there was a desperation in him to win. I think what you did with Peter was you pointed out that the relationship with the referee as a means to win the game.

His actions, in pivotal moments, as a means to win the game. If he lashed out, it was a means to lose the game. I think getting him to understand that was a huge turning point.

When he understood that this could result in us losing, he literally ditched it very quickly. When he realised that nurturing a relationship with the referee could lead to winning, he worked on that harder.

I think it was down to his desire to win. The outcome of the match, subduing that moment of passion for the sake of the outcome, was a big change in him.


You don’t want him to lose his edge but in the early stages that sometimes strayed over the line in terms of his physicality. Sometimes it spilled over into less composed moments.

His temperament wasn’t as calm and collected as it needed to be and I think in recent times he’s well able to play on the edge without going over it.

I think the big difference now is he’s a little bit more disciplined, he stays more in the blue than the red, and without taking away his edge, I think that that’s seemed to be a major progression for him.


Teams are different when he plays and that’s not down to him scoring hat-tricks. It’s his mentality. He’s an absolute dog. I’d hate to play against him.

He’s in your face constantly, so hard nosed, so aggressive, doesn’t stop. He’s everything you’d hate to play against and the player you’d love to play for.

He played on the wing for Con in an AIL final one year. It was Zebo on one wing and he was on the other, and he got man of the match, it was ridiculous.

If I had been on the wing for a match, as a scrum-half, if stuff goes wrong it’s easy to say ‘well I’m not a winger’.

Do you think he’d ever fucking say that? Not a hope! If he’s in the team, he’s there to play.

If he missed a tackle, or was out of position for a kick, or even kicked badly, because I remember him putting in a kick in that final, he’d beat himself up over it.


I don’t want to detract from how hard he’s worked, or detract from how much he’s done between now and then to get to where is now, but there were two standouts [in my time with the Munster academy], as close to certainties as we could make out, and that was Peter and Conor Murray.

The two of them came through and they only had a blur in the A team. They went straight from the academy into the senior team, and as an 8/9 combination back then, you just thought these two guys are going the whole way to the top.

I know it’s easy to say now, but I’ve probably never been as certain about two players as I was with them. They just happened to come together at the same time.

However, it is important to point out that there is a long way from saying ‘this person will reach a certain level’ to them actually doing it.

You could find 10 people to talk to you that would all pick three, four or five players that actually never made that step. That’s only part A.

Part B is how hard he works, his character and how much he’s persevered to get to where he is.

And for Peter, that was always going to be the top.

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