It said so much about the character and leadership of Peter O’Mahony that no sooner had the full-time whistle blown on another last-gasp Munster victory that the captain’s immediate thoughts were not on fact that his side had just sealed their passage to the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup, but rather, with the family and friends of the late Ashling Murphy.
lmost 2,000kms away from home, where the country had come to a standstill to mark the tragic and senseless passing of the school teacher in Tullamore, O’Mahony showed his class with a powerful message.
Everyone in Ireland has been rocked by the brutal murder, but considering he is the father of a young daughter, perhaps it resonated that bit more with O’Mahony.
Munster were left breathing a major sigh of relief as they edged a dogged Castres side 16-13, thanks to a converted try from Gavin Coombes two minutes from full-time.
The players embraced following another priceless European win on the road, but as soon as they left the pitch, O’Mahony painted a picture of muted celebrations.
“We’re certainly happy with the performance — or certainly happy with the win — but look, I suppose, given everything that’s gone on at home, there’s a little bit of a sombre mood in our dressing room after what’s gone on,” O’Mahony said.
“We weren’t able to be a part of all the tributes and vigils for Ashling Murphy at home, the shocking act that happened. She was part of our community in Limerick having gone to Mary I.
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony has offered his condolences on behalf of the squad and everyone at Munster Rugby to the family & friends of Mary Immaculate College graduate Ashling Murphy following her tragic death on Wednesday.
RIP Ashling Murphy. pic.twitter.com/VzjhOYQyly
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) January 14, 2022
“I’m sure everyone’s thoughts are with her family and particularly on behalf of everyone in the dressing room and in Munster Rugby, our thoughts are with Ashling’s parents and family, and extended family and friends. Thoughts are with ye.”
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 heart of a hugely confrontational battle in France.
O’Mahony was superb from start to finish at Stade Pierre Fabre, as he continues to enjoy an excellent run of form.
Whether it was stealing lineout or stifling the Castres maul, O’Mahony, along with Tadhg Beirne, was everywhere for the men in red, even if it wasn’t a classic encounter.
“I don’t know what people were expecting, they obviously haven’t watched us play against Castres for the last 15 years,” O’Mahony (32) insisted.
“It’s incredibly difficult every time we come over here or they come to Thomond Park. It always seems to be an incredibly close, physical encounter.
“A real battle up front, a real battle of who breaks first and a battle of the nerves really. It was a real kick contest and it was difficult conditions to play in. Our message during the week was that it was going to be a proper 80-minute performance and we had to stick to what we’d been working on.
“That was really pleasing, we stayed in the fight until the end. Their other games did finish like that recently, 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 defence, we got (stole) a couple, but the main thing was that it was respect for the Castres set-piece and particularly their maul.
“We knew that is an incredible weapon for them and we trained hard during the week that if we could stop their maul and their access into the game from that part of their performance that it would go a long way.
“That was off the back of the work we did during the week but it wasn’t perfect and we just had to dig in. That was the pleasing aspect for us, staying in the fights because they’re a pretty good maul.”
Despite a sloppy overall performance, Munster, as they so often do, dug deep to snatch a late win, but it was one that looked like had passed them by after O’Mahony had opted for the corner rather than the posts inside the closing 10 minutes, with his side trailing 13-9.
A misfired lineout appeared to have cost Munster a shot at victory, only for Beirne to come up with a trademark turnover penalty, which allowed the visitors one last roll of the dice.
“That was the pleasing thing,” O’Mahony maintained.
“We have worked a lot on our composure and when you go behind, not to panic. We still had lots of time.
“We decided to go for the corner when we were four points down, they turned the lineout over and I think in other years, we could have struggled to get back into the game then, but we didn’t panic.
“The next couple of minutes are a blur but Tadhger (Beirne) obviously gets the penalty, they’ve a scrum and we get a penalty, we stay composed and go down the pitch. That’s the pleasing thing.”
Munster will be expected to win well against Wasps at Thomond Park next weekend, which would set them up nicely to earn one of the top seeds for the knockout stages.
Even if Munster won’t underestimate the challenge of Wasps, they will feel as if their destiny is now in their own hands.
“Yeah, look, it sets it up well, but I mean, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter unless we go and perform next week,” O’Mahony added.
“It’s always about the next one. I suppose the hard thing about this is that you can’t dwell on it, you’ve got to have an eye to Wasps and what they’re going to bring to Thomond Park.
“It’s going to take another big performance.”