Ireland head coach Andy Farrell and captain Jonathan Sexton have led the tributes to Peter O’Mahony who will win his 100th cap for his country in Paris on Saturday night.
O’Mahony will become the tenth player to reach the milestone for Ireland, following in the footsteps of Sexton (116), and his Munster colleagues, Conor Murray (110) and Keith Earls (101).
The teak-tough flanker made his international debut as a 22-year-old, coming on as a replacement against Italy back in 2012. By the end of that summer’s tour of New Zealand, he had played in all three back row positions.
Roll on nearly a dozen years and O’Mahony is right at the heart of Ireland’s quest for Rugby World Cup glory. He will make his fourth start of the pool stages against Scotland, having already chipped in with two tries, 25 successful tackles and twelve lineout takes.
Having coached O’Mahony since 2016, initially in an advisory role with Munster and then from when he was Ireland’s defence coach, Farrell said: “We can sit here all day the two of us (Sexton) and talk about what Pete brings, what he means to us all, what type of bloke he is, what type of family man he is.
“But we’d be here the whole press conference. To sum him up, he’s selfless. You guys would see the performance on the pitch and it’s heroic from him.
“You can see what it means for him to play for Ireland. But we obviously see behind the scenes and he’s definitely, 100%, one of the best I’ve ever seen at making the dressing room feel right.
“And it’s not just a skill. It’s him being himself because it’s genuine and I’m sure Johnny would echo this, there’s no better man that you would want sat at the side of you in the dressing room at the weekend than Peter O’Mahony.
“He’s a selfless player that gives everything to his team-mates, a fantastic team-mate – top drawer as far as a team-mate is concerned – and he backs that up with consistent performances week in, week out for Ireland and for Munster.”
Three of O’Mahony’s first five appearances, when Farrell took over as head coach, were in an impact role off the bench. 2021 saw the all-Leinster back row of Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan make its mark, particularly on the back of Conan’s excellent form with the British & Irish Lions.
Knuckling down and finding a consistent run of form again, the Cork man was hugely influential during the New Zealand series in 2022, starting all three Tests and filling the blindside berth too against South Africa and Australia last November.
The 34-year-old made four starts during this year’s Grand Slam-winning run – he was also a Grand Slam winner in 2018 – and has played in both flanker roles at his third World Cup tournament.
His two-try Mastercard player-of-the-match performance against Romania marked his first international scores away from the Aviva Stadium in four years. His other tries has come against Samoa (2013), Russia (2019), and Italy (2022).
Speaking last year, he gave an insight into what has made him the player that he is, saying: “I’ve picked up some things here and there. I’ve managed to keep my body in good shape, I’ve been lucky with injuries, I’ve always said that. I’ve only had a couple of serious ones, but in the last few years I’ve avoided any of that.
“Every day you’re going in and you’re figuring things out and improving. As soon as that stops, that’s the day that I’m out the gap. You’ve got to keep wanting to be better always and to keep being hungry for knowledge.”
Sexton has soldiered together with O’Mahony for most of their international careers, and while both are now at the veteran stage and Sexton is within weeks of his retirement, they remain two talismanic figures for Farrell’s men.
Indeed, other than a three-match ban during the 2021 Six Nations, O’Mahony has only missed three Tests in the last four-year Rugby World Cup cycle (the games against the USA in July 2021, Fiji in November 2022, and Italy this August).
“Pete’s been a great friend of mine over the last however many years we’ve been playing together, probably ten, 11, 12 years. I’m not sure exactly,” said Sexton.
Like ‘Faz’ said, he’s a consistent performer, a big-game player, I would say. He’s obviously a leader in the group, very different to some of the other leaders.
“He knows the dressing room, he’s such a huge part of it. I don’t think you guys get to see the real Peter O’Mahony. He gives very little away when he sits up here (at press conferences), one word answers.
“But he’s the life and soul of the dressing room behind closed doors and it’s a privilege to play with him all the time. We’ll be playing for him as much as we are for ourselves on Saturday.”
Having impressed as a captain for Cork Constitution, PBC Cork and the Ireland underage teams on his rise up through the ranks, O’Mahony led the Ireland senior side for the first time against the USA during the 2013 North America tour.
He was appointed Munster captain just over a month later, replacing the retired Doug Howlett, and has led the province for the last 10 years, a timely highlight being their BKT United Rugby Championship title win just last May.
The 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand saw him become the 11th Irishman to captain the Lions Test team, and the first Cork Con player to do so since the late, great Tom Kiernan in 1968.