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11th Mar 2024

If Saturday is Peter O’Mahony’s Six Nations last dance, it’s been a hell of a ride

Patrick McCarry


The Ireland captain has looked entirely human in two of his side’s toughest losses, in the past six months.

Not long after Brodie Retallick had sought him out, at Stade de France, to bellow, “Oi, Peter! Four more years, you ****wit!”, Peter O’Mahony was asked in a tough post-match interview if he would play on with Ireland.

Many of the Ireland players were left reeling by their World Cup quarter final defeat to New Zealand, last October. O’Mahony did not follow Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls into retirement, after that heart-breaking defeat, but he did seriously consider if in the days and weeks that followed.

Back in January, Andy Farrell played down him reaching out to O’Mahony for a post-World Cup chat. “I didn’t have to persuade him [to play on], no,” Farrell confirmed. 

“I always speak to players, no matter what. To me, it’s the same as anything. It’s about how you’re performing and how your’e playing. Certainly, whether your form warrants getting selected and whether your body can do that. I think those type of decisions as far as that’s concerned becomes pretty obvious if you’re allow what’s pretty natural to happen.”

O’Mahony thinks a lot of Farrell and recently told ITV that his head coach has made him a better player, and a better person, in the time they have had together [nine years, starting with a mini stint he did at Munster when he first arrived to assist Joe Schmidt]. There is a clear bond between the two. O’Mahony and other senior players – Cian Healy, Conor Murray and Iain Henderson – have been told they are still needed to add experience and guidance to the next generation coming through.

The Cork native, in that same ITV interview, said he would not be around for the 2027 World Cup in Australia [when he would be 38]. Most O’Mahony games one looks at, he looks so dinged up and needs treatment on different ailments that one is amazed when he makes it to the end of another season.

Farrell needed a few senior men to sign up for another season in green, even though many of their friends and colleagues had moved on. O’Mahony would have left the stage an Ireland legend, already locked in, last October but his head coach had a job in mind – sticking around just a while longer before handing over the reins.

Peter O'Mahony
Peter O’Mahony of Ireland, centre, with teammates Jonathan Sexton, left, and Tadhg Furlong before a 2023 Six Nations game. (Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile)

Peter O’Mahony deserves chance to finish the job

Peter O’Mahony has astutely dealt with all contract talk by referring back to the honour of being asked to captain his country. At the Six Nations launch, in Dublin, he reminisced on a time when Ireland call-ups used to come through the post-box.

“You get an email [now] to say you’ve been selected for the Six Nations. It’s one of the best feelings.

“I still have some of the old letters at home. You’re driving up the road to meet up with the best 35 players in the country. Not everybody gets to feel that… if you can’t get excited for that, you’re in the wrong room.”

The Ireland back row with O’Mahony in it is the most consistent and effective in world rugby over the past two years. O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris have started 17 Test matches together since 2022 and have won 14 of them. The next closest combination was 10 (Italy and Argentina). Van der Flier and Doris are responsible for some staggering back-row statistics – both score highly for carries, tries, try assists, ruck arrivals and turnovers. O’Mahony is the lineout man – very effective in attack and defence – and contributes well at attacking rucks.

The big worries regarding O’Mahony, though, are his discipline (he has been sin-binned in three of his last seven Ireland games) and how he has struggled to make an impact in those losses to New Zealand and, at the weekend, England. In those games, he had five carries for only eight metres gained, made 23 tackles, missed three, won six lineouts and conceded two turnovers.

They were unusual performances, especially when stacked up against the evidence of his resurgence under Andy Farrell in this excellent Ireland side. Heading into the World Cup knock-out stages, there was speculation if O’Mahony could go on to the next big tournament as he looked in prime form and was impacting games. He failed to impose himself on that quarter final and looked human in a match where Ardie Savea and Caelan Doris scrapped over the ‘World’s Best No.8’ tag.

In the current Six Nations campaign, O’Mahony has started three games. Our player ratings have him at 6, 7 and 5 for his outings against France, Wales and England. Other outlets rated the blindside harshly for his performance against England (marks ranged from 3 to 5/10). Over on RTÉ, Bernard Jackman voiced what many fans have been calling for – Ryan Baird coming in to start at No.6.

Interestingly, Peter O’Mahony has, so far, captained Ireland for 165 minutes in this Six Nations. Caelan Doris has captained the side for 162 minutes [including seven minutes after the clock turned red]. When the transition comes, Doris will already have a decent fist of the captaincy experience.

When will that change come? I had initially felt it could be at the end of the summer tour to South Africa. There had been a lot of talk about O’Mahony not being offered an IRFU central contract and only getting an extension offer from Munster. Maybe that is with good reason, and with input from the man himself. He may enjoy a final season with Munster, and Munster only, before leaving it over to the young fellas.

This Saturday at Lansdowne Road could yet prove to be the last dance for Peter O’Mahony in an Ireland jersey.

If it is, we may not even realise it until it is all over. For a guy that loves better than winding up his opponents and causing as much havoc as he can get away with, O’Mahony doesn’t like making much of a fuss (when it comes to himself).

Ryan Baird could easily start in that 6 jersey and, in time, will be battling for it with the likes of Cian Prendergast and Tom Ahern. For me, though, O’Mahony deserves to lead this team out against Scotland and finish the job.


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