Munster captain Peter O’Mahony collected his province’s player of the year award for the first time and pledged “this will always by my club”.
The 29-year-old Ireland flanker had been nominated for the award by team-mates alongside Tadhg Beirne and Joey Carbery. Following an outstanding campaign which has seen him lead Munster to the Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals and Guinness PRO14 play-offs and play some of the best rugby of his career for both province and country, O’Mahony topped a public vote to collect the award in Limerick, seven years after winning the Young Player award.
Speaking after accepting the award at the University Concert Hall, the skipper, whose current, central IRFU contract runs until June 2021, spoke about why his commitment to Munster remained so intense.
“Look, I’m a very proud Corkman, a very proud Munsterman,” O’Mahony said. “Cork Con was hugely important to me starting out as a rugby player, moving from there to Pres, a big rugby school in Cork, and this will always be home to me. This will always be my club.
O’Mahony said it had been “a huge honour” to be nominated alongside Beirne and Carbery and despite talking in the wake of last weekend’s European semi-final exit at the hands of Saracens in Coventry, he insisted: “We’ve had a great year so far and I put a huge amount of this (award) down to the lads I have around me, the leadership group, the staff and the squad. I get huge backing from lots of people around me and a lot of support from lots of different areas — my family, fiancée, kids, so it’s a team effort.”
O’Mahony said he was encouraged by his team-mates’ ability to quickly move on from the Saracens defeat last Saturday and refocus on the Guinness PRO14 campaign, which resumes on Saturday with a final league game at home to Connacht before the play-offs. Munster are assured of a home quarter-final but if they beat Connacht at Thomond Park and Glasgow Warriors slip up against Edinburgh, also on Saturday evening, Munster can bypass the quarters by claiming the top spot in Conference A and with a home semi-final: “We’ve an opportunity this weekend to go and bring Connacht home. We need to win to give ourselves any chance of missing that quarter-final but we’ve guaranteed ourselves a quarter-final and at this time of the year, after this weekend, there’ll be lots of teams who won’t have any rugby left.
“There were lots of European teams last weekend who didn’t have a game and at times, you know, we’re sick and tired of losing semi-finals but it takes a lot of effort to get that far in the competition with the quality that we’re up against.
“You see who’s in the final, I don’t think anyone would argue they’re the two best teams in Europe and we’re going to come up against some excellent sides in the PRO14.
O’Mahony’s body of work for Ireland this season has also been outstanding.
The flanker was man of the match in Ireland’s historic home victory over the All Blacks last November and he was an ever-present during the 2019 Six Nations campaign, in which he played every minute of his country’s five games, earning man of the match award in the victories over Scotland and Italy.
Despite preferring to concentrate on Munster’s bid for silverware in the coming weeks, O’Mahony was pressed by awards presenter Matt Cooper on Ireland’s upcoming World Cup campaign in Japan, which kicks off against pool rivals Scotland in Yokohama on September 22.
“It’s something that we’ll certainly be targeting. There’s obviously a huge amount of water to go under the bridge before then… there are some huge games for (Munster) coming up, which is paramount to us.
“ We know from experience, things like Six Nations and November Series pass you by in the blink of an eye. It won’t be any different for the pre-season and then into Japan.
“Look I’d be lying to you if I was standing here saying we’re not an ambitious group, we want to go a long way in this competition.
“There have been (Ireland) teams before have gone down there with the pressure we’ll have and haven’t delivered. That pressure will be there again but it’s something we love. We’re an ambitious group and we want to do as well as we can for Ireland and that will be a big target for us.”