Peter O’Mahony is faced with a significant task, but he is the perfect match for Ireland.
France and Ireland will have to settle for the opening match of the Six Nations, instead of the highly anticipated World Cup final. However, their roles in a weekend in Paris last October greatly contributed to the success of the Rugby World Cup. This also pushed the actual finalists to perform at their best, which they were unable to replicate afterwards.
It may not be much consolation, but when France and Ireland face each other in Marseille on Friday night for the World Cup quarter-finals (along with other quarter-finals that weekend), rugby enthusiasts around the world will be captivated. However, both teams and the entire Six Nations tournament have enough unique aspects to make any comparisons to past performances irrelevant.
Italy is the only team in this championship with their previous captain from the World Cup, but they have a new coach. Both Ireland and France do not have their usual captains, who are also considered top players of the present era. However, it is Ireland who are dealing with more uncertainty.
The replacement for Johnny Sexton is not clearly identified. However, Peter O’Mahony steps into a role that may suit him well, even though it is uncertain if he will still have a job at the end of the season due to confusion between his union and province regarding his contract extension.
Andy Farrell, who will temporarily be stepping aside next season to lead the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia in 2025, may have been tempted to choose a daring new captain for Ireland, looking towards the future. However, with his own absence looming, Farrell has instead selected O’Mahony, a seasoned 34-year-old back-row player from Munster. This aligns with the traditional qualities of an Ireland captain.
Frankie Sheahan, the ex-Munster and Ireland hooker, has been acquainted with O’Mahony since childhood when they were neighbors in a Cork suburb. O’Mahony would often cross the road to mow Sheahan’s lawn and seek advice from the seasoned rugby player, whom he aspired to become. Sheahan is encouraged by the simplicity of O’Mahony’s appointment.
“I would hesitate to appoint a captain for the out-half position,” he explains. “Having Peter O’Mahony as captain is a great advantage. He is always close to the referee, has a lot of experience, and knows how to communicate with them effectively about their performance.”
“Why include a player like Peter, who is considered too old by some critics? However, Ireland has consistently failed to advance past the quarter-finals in World Cup games. Therefore, why not make the most of the years in between and focus on building a strong team for the World Cup? If the team cannot progress past the quarter-finals, then why not aim to win everything else in between?”
Farrell and O’Mahony have been evasive about Ireland’s goals for the Six Nations, simply stating their desire to win every game. However, they acknowledge that achieving this is a difficult task. It is worth noting that grand slams have occurred more frequently than not in the era of the Six Nations, with 13 total and three being won by Ireland (the current holders). The remaining 11 championships did not result in a clean sweep.
This demonstrates the Six Nations’ position as the top competition for maintaining momentum. This puts a lot of weight on a team’s performance in the beginning games. Ireland will see this unique first match, in an unfamiliar stadium on a Friday evening, as an opportunity to potentially seize victory. This is especially true since France will be without their own key player, Antoine Dupont, while a player like O’Mahony will lead the coin toss. A win here would give Ireland a strong advantage in terms of momentum, with upcoming home games against Italy and Wales.
If Ireland values living in the present, O’Mahony could be a great captain. He was uncertain about continuing after the crushing loss to New Zealand in the quarter-finals in Paris. He has stepped down as captain of Munster after many years. However, his intense determination during competition shows his passion, and his frequent social media posts about his well-maintained garden at home demonstrate his caring nature and attention to detail.
According to Sheahan, O’Mahony was always eager to learn and absorb new knowledge. Sheahan could be credited with shaping O’Mahony’s successes in both rugby and gardening. O’Mahony has always displayed qualities of a leader and was always destined for captaincy. He naturally takes on a leadership role on any team he is a part of.
He is the perfect candidate to guide Ireland into a future without Sexton and to the World Cup final that never happened.