With little fanfare, Barry O’Mahony has rejoined the Munster ranks of professional rugby and he is arguably the perfect advertisement for the domestic amateur club game.
Four years after being deemed superfluous to requirements by the two-time Heineken Cup champions, the 25-year-old Limerick born UCC graduate is back where he wants to be. He is now fighting for a place in the competitive environment of representative rugby, with game-time in two pre-season matches under his belt.
If a one year full-time contract offered to and accepted by a home grown player is hardly headline news, there is a pretty good story behind it.
Less than a year ago he was captain of All Ireland League challengers Clontarf, albeit with the bonus of having represented the Irish clubs at international level for the fourth consecutive season.
Munster had injury problems; O’Mahony was continuously making headlines in the club game and was asked to help the cause in a B&I Cup semi-final against arch rivals Leinster at the RDS. Munster won the game after extra-time and went on to beat Cross Keys in the final.
Suddenly he was back in the frame and he is therefore well aware of the link between a semi-final victory over a hotly-fancied Leinster and the offer of a new contract.
But, he recalls, such things happen in sport: “Opportunities often come from difficult circumstances and Munster had some injury problems; there are (all sorts of) parallels in that Jonny Sexton originally made the Leinster team when Felipe Contepomi was out, for instance.
“I got my chance that day and I got on well — ironically I got a try by blocking down a clearance from Noel Reid, my Clontarf club out-half, to score.
“Originally the decision to play was a tough call because I was getting on very well with the club and we had a crunch match the following week against St Mary’s.
“Some people suggested I should not have played but for me it was really a no-brainer; I wasn’t there to get a contract but I played because I figured it would be a great game.
“You would have to picture the scene, it was Good Friday, the RDS, the only place in Dublin serving drink and that meant there was bound to be a great atmosphere. It was, it was unbelievable, it went to extra-time, but we won and it all turned out great afterwards as it happened.”
O’Mahony’s early rugby CV reads impressively, and it includes the fact he played a lot of rugby in Crescent Comprehensive, that he went on to play for Munster and Irish Schools in his fifth year of the secondary cycle, that he played for Ireland Under 19’s in sixth year when he was still eligible for Irish Schools and then quickly won an Academy contract for the provincial side as he embarked on the third level education route in UCC.
He spent three years with the Academy between the ages of 18 and 21 but, mainly because of the plethora of high quality and experienced back rows — he can rattle off names like Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Alan Quinlan and Anthony Foley for starters — was let go to make his way in the world of business and the amateur sector of the game.
O’Mahony, whose highly rated wing three-quarter brother Ronan is also in the broader Munster squad, thought about but wasn’t prepared to move to England and down the Championship route, but concedes some Irish players have made a success of themselves by taking that path. He has no regrets at his decision to move to the corporate sector which, he feels will stand to him down the line.
Equally, however, he is ecstatic at being given a second go at professional rugby after spells with UCC, Dolphin and ‘Tarf. He believes his maturity and the street credibility he earned in the amateur game will be of immense benefit to him second time around.
He goes into this second coming with eyes wide open rather than eyes wide shut, and he’s confident of making the cut without the same fear of failure that naturally accompanies youthful dreams.
There will be a lot of people watching out for him.
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