You never know who you might bump into in Carton House during an Ireland camp.
Last week, there was a revolving door of well-wishers, dipping in and out, as Joe Schmidt’s squad finalised their World Cup preparations. Christy Moore turned up with guitar in hand, for his usual singalong, with Tadhg Furlong a particularly keen participant, from, fittingly, the front row.
Henry Shefflin, Ruby Walsh, and Kellie Harrington also made the spin out to Maynooth to offer some advice, before tomorrow’s flight to Japan. Yet for Peter O’Mahony, it was a far more familiar face who provided perhaps the most valuable words of wisdom: former teammate Paul O’Connell addressed the squad.
“He was saying to enjoy it; he said there were times he should have enjoyed it more than he did. He gave us lots of good advice: take your downtime when it comes,” said O’Mahony.
“It’s difficult, at times. You’re spending a long time away from home, but you’re with guys who you enjoy their company. The weeks leading up to games, there’s training and playing and that’s very serious, but you have to take your downtime, your days off; you need to refresh the mind and get the body right.”
O’Mahony, 29, admitted it was advice he could probably heed more often.
It’s all-encompassing and you have to remember why you play the game. These are the seven or eight weeks, the reason you play the game, and you’ve got to enjoy it. Sometimes, that can get lost a bit with how serious it is, the pressure, but you always come back to why you’re doing it.
It is easier said than done. It’s been a difficult few weeks around the Irish set-up. After a gruelling warm-weather training camp in Portugal, O’Mahony was part of the team filleted by England in Twickenham. It was, of course, only a warm-up tie, but given the manner of the defeat, and on the back of a disappointing Six Nations, it piled even more pressure on an under-fire team.
Add in the fact that, this time last week, the last few hopefuls who had been toiling away were cut adrift when Schmidt finalised his 31-man squad. Devin Toner’s omission dominated the headlines, but it was also tough on the likes of Jordi Murphy, Will Addison, and Kieran Marmion, who all failed to make the plane, but hung around to help out with training.
Safe to say not everyone in the camp was full of the joys.
“It’s certainly been one of the most difficult, physical pre-seasons that I have been through,” said O’Mahony. “It’s unbelievably difficult for guys (who didn’t make the squad). You’re working towards something and I couldn’t even image what it is like (to be cut).
"But we have a huge onus, not just for ourselves, but for those guys, to do the selection justice and do them justice, all the hard work that they’ve put in, to respect them with how seriously we take it, and the performances that we can put in.”
One of the most interesting features of the warm-up games has been how Schmidt has tested different combinations. O’Mahony lined out in his usual No 6 slot in Twickenham, but captained the side from openside the following week in Cardiff.
“I enjoyed it (at openside),’ added O’Mahony, who sat out Ireland’s final warm-up game, against Wales. It wasn’t a huge difference for us, with regard to me staying in the lineout and that kind of thing. I suppose, just scrums is the main thing. There seemed to be a lot of scrums, which fell for whatever reason.
“Attack-ball, you’ve first-phase breakdown; defensively, scrum-wise, you’re in the first one or you’re in the second. It gets you into the phase play a bit quicker, but there isn’t a huge difference from six.”
Saturday’s 19-10 defeat of Wales looked more like the Ireland of old, and while Wales certainly appeared less interested than their hosts, the result will at least allow Ireland head to the Far East on a high. Hopefully, O’Mahony will be able to enjoy it.