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O'Mahony: The Irish rock

SPOTLIGHT: Peter O’Mahony is the Ireland rugby team’s “emotional leader” according to head coach Andy Farrell, although unlikely as it sounds he gets all dewy-eyed when his hydrangeas are blooming in his garden.

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The 34-year-old back row forward is likely to be given the honour of running onto the Stade de France pitch first, to mark his 100th Irish cap, for Ireland’s final World Cup Pool B match with Scotland on Saturday.

The Munster great has allowed on occasion his emotions get the better of him and a red mist descend – he has paid the price with a yellow card, against Tonga in their pool match, and a red against Wales in the 2021 Six Nations.

In a match the Scots have to win to have a chance of progressing, they may try and provoke him and see if he rises to the bait.

After all, there is a history between the Scottish side and O’Mahony.

O’Mahony and his Munster teammates hosted Glasgow in a European Cup match the day after the funeral of their beloved coach Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley, who was found dead in his Paris hotel room aged 42 in 2016.

The referee called both skippers, Glasgow’s then-captain Jonny Gray and O’Mahony, over at one point after Munster’s Keith Earls was sent off.

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Gray needled O’Mahony unnecessarily.

“They are over-emotional,” said Gray to the referee.

A clearly furious O’Mahony pushed Gray.

“Don’t …. tell us what emotions we should have,” he said.

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Despite the early red card, Munster did not let their emotions run away with them and thrashed Glasgow 38-17.

That is O’Mahony down to a T.

To his Ireland teammates past and present he is their rock, and also a barometer of how they are faring – if he is wilting then they know they are in a tight corner.

“I relied heavily on him when I was Ireland captain,” wrote Ireland’s 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam-winning skipper Rory Best in his autobiography.

“He was a natural leader, a strong character, he kept me honest.”

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‘Wisteria improving each year’

O’Mahony has his softer moments too.

After the presentation ceremony at Twickenham, he gave his 2018 Grand Slam medal to devoted Ireland fan Jennifer Malone, who was born with Down Syndrome.

Jennifer, who attends Irish pre-match training sessions however bad the weather is, and her mother Donna kept it overnight but then went to the team hotel to hand it back – but O’Mahony was having none of it.

“He said, ‘Keep it’,” recalled Donna.

“I said, ‘Are you sure?’. ‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘She’s one of us.'”

O’Mahony may see her more than his own three children – daughter Indie and two sons, Ralph and Theo – which is one of his regrets due to the amount of time he spends away from home.

“Indie is our eldest and she’s letting me know I’m not around that often and why all the other dads can drop them to school and I can’t,” he said.

“It’s not easy but it’s a short career in the scheme of things and I’d hope, down the line, they’d understand that it was for a good reason.”

Ireland’s hardman on the pitch is happiest of all when he is back home in Munster tending to his beloved garden.

Not many of the players involved on Saturday will have been boasting earlier this year about how their alliums were about to blossom.

O’Mahony is very proud of his garden and even has a herb one and a fruit and vegetable patch, which he has created at the house he and wife Jessica bought in Cork.

“It’s very rewarding, with every dinner now we have homegrown salads,” said O’Mahony.

“Fellas laugh at you because maybe it’s in your head, but [to me] it just tastes better.”

The Munster skipper – who captained the province to their first silverware in 12 years when they upset South African side the Stormers in last season’s URC Cup final – regularly publishes Instagram posts on his garden.

“Hydrangea coming up nicely”, “Wisteria improving each year” – just two examples of the man with green fingers who wears the green shirt with equal pride.

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