It said so much about Peter O’Mahony’s character and leadership that the captain’s immediate thoughts as soon as he whistled full-time on Munster’s yet another final victory were not over the fact that his side had sealed his path. Knockout stage of the Heineken Champions Cup with family and friends of the rather late Ashling Murphy.
About 2,000km from home, where the country had come to a standstill to mark the sad and senseless passing of a schoolteacher in Tullamore, O’Mahony showered her class with a powerful message.
Everyone in Ireland is shaken by the brutal murder, but given that he’s the father of a young daughter, perhaps this resonates a bit more with O’Mahony.
Munster heaved a huge sigh of relief as he took Castres’s 16-13 lead thanks to a two-minute converted effort from Gavin Coombs.
The players embraced after another priceless European victory on the road, but as they left the pitch, O’Mahony painted a picture of silent celebrations.
“We’re certainly happy with the performance – or certainly happy with the win – but look, I think, looking at what’s going on at home, what happened in our dressing room, There’s a slight gloomy mood after,” O’Mahony said.
“We couldn’t separate from all the tribute and vigilance at home for Ashling Murphy, the shocking act that happened. She was part of our community in Limerick after Mary I moved in.
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony, on behalf of the team and all at Munster Rugby, has offered his condolences to family and friends following the tragic death on Wednesday of Mary Immaculate College graduate Ashling Murphy.
RIP Ashling Murphy. pic.twitter.com/VzjhOYQyly
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) 14 January 2022
“I’m sure everyone’s thoughts are with his family and especially on behalf of everyone in the dressing room and at Munster Rugby, our thoughts are with Ashling’s parents and family, and extended family and friends. Thoughts. are with you.”
It seemed insensitive to talk about rugby after such a poignant statement from a man who, not for the first time in his career, was at the center of a fiercely confrontational battle in France.
O’Mahony was brilliant from start to finish at Stade Pierre Fabre, as he continues to enjoy great form.
Whether it was stealing the lineout or stifling Castres Maul, O’Mahony, along with Tadhag Birney, were everywhere for the men in red, even if it wasn’t a classic encounter.
“I don’t know what people were expecting, they clearly haven’t seen us play against Castro for the last 15 years,” O’Mahony (32) insisted.
“Every time we come here or they come to Thomond Park it’s incredibly difficult. It always seems to be an incredibly close, physical encounter.
“A real fight up front, a real fight that breaks down at first and a really nerve wracking fight. It was a real kick competition and there were tough conditions to play in. Our message during the week was that it was going to be an 80’s. Fair performance of the minute and we had to stick to what we were working on.
“It was really enjoyable, we stayed in the fight till the end. Their other games recently ended, La Rochelle and stuff, it goes to the wire. We were happy that we stuck to our process and stayed in the fight .
“Our lineout defense, we got (stole) a couple, but the main thing was that it was respect for the Castres set-piece and especially for their maul.
“We knew it was an incredible weapon for him and we worked hard during the week that it will go a long way if we can stop his access to the game and his access to the game from that part of his performance.
“It was behind the work that we did during the week, but it wasn’t perfect and we just had to dig in. It was the pleasant aspect of us, getting into fights because they’re so good maul.”
Despite a poor overall performance, Munster, as he often does, dug deep to take the late win, but it looked like that after O’Mahony elected to corner instead of positions inside the finale. He had passed them. 10 minutes, his side trails 13-9.
A failed lineout cost Munster a shot at the win, only for Birney to come up with a trademark turnover penalty that allowed the visitors one final roll of the dice.
“It was a pleasing thing,” O’Mahony said.
“We have worked a lot on our competition and when you go back, there is nothing to panic. We still had plenty of time.
“We decided to go for the corner when we were four points down, they changed the lineout and I think in other years, we might have struggled to get back in the game, but we didn’t panic.
“The next few minutes are hazy but Tadhagar (Berne) clearly gets a penalty, he has a scrum and we get a penalty, we get ready and go down the pitch. It’s a pleasant thing.”
Munster will be expected to win a decent win against the Wasps at Thomond Park next weekend, which will set them up well to earn them one of the top seeds for the knockout stages.
Even though Munster won’t underestimate the wasp’s challenge, he’ll feel as though his fate is now in his own hands.
“Yeah, look, it sets it up nicely, but I mean, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter until we perform next week,” O’Mahony said.
“It’s always about the next. I think the hard thing about it is you can’t pay attention to it, you have to keep an eye on the Wasps and what they’re going to bring to Thomond Park.
“It’s going to be another big show.”