Peter O’Mahony is hoping that his cruciate ligament injury nightmare can pay dividends down the line by adding up to a year onto the back end of his professional rugby career.
The soon-to-be 27-year-old hasn’t played a game since his knee gave way under him in the most innocuous of circumstances during Ireland’s last Rugby World Cup pool game against France at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium last October.
No time was wasted in recovery. O’Mahony was with Dublin consulting surgeon Ray Moran the next day but the road back has been long and winding and hopes expressed last January that he could take to the field before the season’s end came to naught.
“I had a good diagram drawn for me about two months after the injury and it just goes in cycles, in ebbs and flows. It’s just trying to get through those little low points and drive it on when you’re going well. That’s the way these injuries are, unfortunately.”
He’s close now. Finally. The blindside flanker was part of Joe Schmidt’s 48-hour Ireland camp earlier this week and is taking part in contact sessions. Though reluctant to pencil in a firm date for a return with Munster, he is hoping it will be no later than week three or four of the new season.
“I’m back doing nearly everything now,” he said.
A good time to return, what with a whole campaign to come. “It is definitely. You’d hope that with the bulk of training that I’ve done now that you might get a bit more time out there during the season, or you might get a couple of months or hopefully a year back at the end of my career.
“There’s loads of positives,” he said at this week’s Guinness PRO12 launch. “You don’t want to miss rugby of course, and you want to play as much as you can, but you have to look at the other side of it as well and hopefully I’ll get that back.”
He has been run lightly enough up to now. Though seven seasons into his senior career, O’Mahony has only featured 72 times for Munster and another 35 for Ireland. That’s an average just north of 15 games per season, but he doesn’t agree with the suggestion that adapting his game could extend his career as well.
His abrasiveness is core to what O’Mahony does on a rugby field. New Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus identified as much by making him captain again for the campaign to come. His return will be invaluable to a side that struggled last season.
The South African has created good vibes in a short space of time. A reluctance to scour the globe for talent could be read as a vote of confidence in the players already at his disposal and there is a belief that small changes can make a big difference.
Erasmus was hardly in the door when he told his squad they weren’t far off where they needed to be. One tweak here and there, he told them, and they would have made a PRO12 play-off. This, after all, is a squad whose nine PRO12 losses included five by a margin of less than seven points.
“Don’t lose two or three of them by the smallest margins and you are in a semi-final and it would have been different,” said O’Mahony. “We knew we weren’t good enough, (that) we didn’t play well at times last year. But he has come in and given us the confidence.
“There is a huge amount of people that care about the club that are still there. It is not like we have to go and pull the place asunder and reinvent what we are doing. We have small little tweaks to make in a couple of different areas and hopefully we can start playing.”
That positivity will be allied with a desire to atone for a season that saw them finish at the bottom of the Irish order of merit, outside the PRO12 play-off places and evicted from Europe at the pool stage for the second season in a row.
“It doesn’t sit well, we want to be competing in Europe and we want to be competing for trophies. We want to be competing in the Guinness PRO12. You want to be in finals and semi-finals and competing at the highest level. We weren’t there last year.”
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