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O’Mahony set for 100th test and Ireland glad he’s on their side at Rugby World Cup

Peter O'Mahony Huge Keenan Ireland Peter O'Mahony Hugo Keenan - The Canadian Press

PARIS (AP) — The low-down on Peter O’Mahony is he’s a dream to play with and a nightmare to play against.

He’s an old school, heart-on-the-sleeve type, who’s beloved in the Ireland setup. But when the same teammates cross him in provincial games, there’s no love lost.

“As an opponent he was a nightmare, as a teammate the best,” former Ireland captain and Ulsterman Rory Best said. Present teammate and Leinsterman James Lowe can vouch for that: ”You definitely hate to play against him but love to have him in your team.”

O’Mahony follows Best to 100 tests for Ireland on Saturday in the decisive Rugby World Cup match against Scotland at Stade de France.

He’s played with all of Ireland’s nine other centurions, including John Hayes, who retired from internationals before O’Mahony’s debut in 2012. O’Mahony played beside Hayes in his last months at Munster. The 100 club includes Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell and present teammates Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Keith Earls and the injured Cian Healy.

“When I look at the people who have got to 100, it’s almost a little bit embarrassing with the names ahead of me to be honest, people I grew up following and supporting, hugely inspirational characters,” O’Mahony said. “To be the 10th, it’s going to take some time to settle in. We all talk about having dreams, but that was way off the radar to be honest.”

O’Mahony followed into rugby his father John, who played for Cork Constitution club, better known as Con. The kid loved the noise, the smells and the game. His first match was for Con Under-8s, on the wing.

His leadership qualities were recognized early; he had a confidence that was noted by senior players, and trained with a hunger that doubly impressed them.

“I’ve known him since he was 18 when he came into the Munster academy,” O’Connell said. “He was always a leader and always wanted to figure things out. He was able to lead well and speak well and set an example. Guys speak in different ways and he has a certain way of setting the tone. There’s never any BS. It’s always straight and to the point.”

Another Munsterman in the Ireland setup, assistant athletic performance coach Ciaran Ruddock, also remembers being impressed while playing with O’Mahony.

“Some of the things he could do, some of those one-handed lineout takes,” Ruddock said. “He didn’t weigh nearly what he weighs now. He was 18 years of age and I couldn’t get over what a punch he packed for a guy his size.”

O’Mahony captained Ireland Under-20s, made his Munster debut at 20, and made captain in his 12th match for the province. He captained Ireland seniors for the first time at 23, and captained the British and Irish Lions in the first test against New Zealand in 2017.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. He missed significant time from shoulder surgery in 2014, and was out for a year after a career-threatening torn ACL at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. It took another year for the knee to truly settle.

Fully back in harness, he was a pain again to all opponents. He’s won four Six Nations, and two of Ireland’s only four Grand Slams. He memorably gave his 2018 Grand Slam medal to an Irish superfan, and declined when her mother offered to give it back.

He’s been there for some of Ireland’s other greatest moments including series wins in New Zealand and Australia. He captained the latter tour.

He’s in France with an Ireland unbeaten for more than a year, and with a great chance to win the one trophy they never have.

“I’m hoping,” O’Mahony said of his pending 100th, ”there’s going to be bigger moments in my career than this one — and hopefully in the near future.”