In the pantheons of Irish Rugby greats, Peter O’Mahony sits in rarified air as one of the very best to ever do it.
Bursting onto the scene in 2010 as a no-nonsense backrow forward in the mould of fellow Munster icons such as Mick Galway, Anthony Foley and Paul O’Connell, the Cork man would become an instant fan favourite at Thomond Park.
Just one year into his senior career, O’Mahony would captain Munster for the first time against the Dragons whilst the international stars were away at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Two months after the Dragons match, the 21-year-old would make his Heineken Cup debut against Northampton Saints in a match that would become famous for Ronan O’Gara’s last-ditch drop goal after 40 phases!
Such was O’Mahony’s performance in the match that he would win the match of the match award. One week later, he would have his first Munster try against Castres and with it cemented himself as a key starter for the men in the red.
Firmly established in the side, O’Mahony would assume the greatest honour in Munster Rugby as he took over the captain’s armband from the departing Doug Howlett in 2013 and would hold the role until he relinquished it earlier this season.
Thus, to call his rise from Ireland’s U20 captain to Munster superstar meteoric would be an understatement to end all understatements.
Whilst no longer the skipper, O’Mahony remains a central figure in the Munster set-up and has seemingly slowed the sands of time to operate at an immensely effective level.
However, one area that even he cannot control is the ever-evolving world of professional rugby, which waits for no player. This statement is even more accurate considering that O’Mahony plays in the arguably attritional position on the pitch.
Therefore, the challenge now facing both O’Mahony and the Munster coaching staff is where he fits into the long-term vision of Munster Rugby.
Whilst there is no doubt he remains an integral leader and perhaps more crucially a difference maker when fit and healthy, backrow is not an area of weakness for the province.
As O’Mahony was in 2010, several immensely talented backrow players have broken into the senior set-up over the past two seasons. Names such as Thomas Ahern, Gavin Coombes, John Hodnett and Alex Kendellen are now staples in Graham Rowntree’s first-choice team, whilst youngsters Ruadhán Quinn and Brian Gleeson have all the traits necessary to go on and have World Class careers.
Considering this, the statement from the great NFL coach Bill Parcells of senior players who look good before a sharp fall-off being ‘Progress stoppers’ comes to mind. There is little doubt that O’Mahony could remain a key figure for Munster for another season should he choose to do so; the challenge here would be, can this be a possibility whilst affording the next generation enough opportunities to stake their claim?
Signing his first IRFU central contract in 2013, the now 34-year-old has since earned 101 Irish Test Caps, four Six Nations titles, including two Grand Slams, and captured the British and Irish Lions and has featured in three Rugby World Cups.
Reporting in the Irish Times today has stated that, as of yet, O’Mahony has not been offered a contract for next season by Munster. Given his current contract with the IRFU is set to expire at the end of this season, could this signal that his time in both the red and green jerseys could be drawing to a conclusion?
If so, the possibility of a move away from Irish Rugby could be on the cards should he opt to postpone retirement. According to several reports, multiple French Top 14 teams have been aware that his contract expires in the summer and have shown interest in signing him.
Should he decide to make the move, it would mark an interesting final chapter for one of the finest players the British and Irish isles has ever produced.