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O'Mahony stays calm amid Paris uncertainty as he waits for seeds to bear fruit



Changing times: Peter O’Mahony says he has been able to switch off from rugby far easier since having kids

Changing times: Peter O’Mahony says he has been able to switch off from rugby far easier since having kids

Changing times: Peter O’Mahony says he has been able to switch off from rugby far easier since having kids

The greatest enemy of a sportsperson is uncertainty. At the worst possible time for them, the Irish rugby team, no more than all of us, are mired within a substantial unknown.

Peter O'Mahony drove home to Cork on Friday night after preparing for a game - Ireland v Italy - that will now not take place due to the coronavirus.

When he returns to Dublin, he and his side will start planning for another game - against France - which may also never occur when it is supposed to, in Paris in a fortnight.

"If it doesn't go ahead, and with Munster playing Italians twice this month, I may not play for six weeks which is obviously mad," he mused.

"It's uncommon because we have a schedule for 50 weeks of the year, so the uncertainty is different."

And so amidst a sporting world spiralling into entropy, O'Mahony seeks to find order within the chaos; perhaps appropriately, he finds it where there is green grass but in this case there is not a ball in sight.

For he finds solace, and perhaps unconsciously always has, in his garden.

"It started in my grandmother's as a kid," he said of his green-fingered passion. "The big day for me would be when the gardener came every week.

"Or my uncle in West Cork, he had ducks and goats and all sorts. I loved being down there in the middle of it all. Even my parents' garden, it was very small but I just loved messing around in it."

They say, 'Show me your garden and I'll tell you who you are'.

O'Mahony's patch is devised with rigour, order and discipline, befitting one whose attention to detail has enabled him to captain club, country and British and Irish Lions; the rarest trinity of leadership.

"I wouldn't be one of those gardeners who like to leave things to grow," he explained."I'd be quite tidy and neat.

"I've a touch of OCD, that's why I like to keep it looking well, but it's definitely a big part of me having a chill-out area, clearing the head.

"I can enjoy it. I'm lucky to have it. Some lads don't have that physical outlet. Some guys in the squad are big into building Lego. You need something to have a release, to be comfortable relaxing with.

"I enjoy the physical activity of it and obviously in the height of summer, it is beautiful when everything is in full bloom, having a beer or coffee while looking at your work."

His linear design may seem restrictive but imagination is allowed to flourish; recently, a delicate operation to transport a Japanese maple tree from his grandmother's house was successfully completed. A stunning shape, with intricate stem structure, the intensely detailed leaves sparkle with ever-changing colour according to the season; but it is very old and susceptible to movement and the constant Irish winds.

"I was a kid when she got it but it's almost 60-years-old now. You could lose it. It was an ordeal transplanting it. Hopefully it will take. The garden's been all borders and flowers until now but I'm keen to grow my own food and stuff, I'm going to get a greenhouse and a vegetable plot," he said.

We're here to talk about the man and not the rugby player but a loose link is allowed; we tell him that the growth of a rose, the wounding thorns painfully pricking delicate skin, much resembles the growing pains of a new rugby team.

"That's very deep," he said, with a sideways look suggesting a return to the garden.

We're not sure if 18-month-old Theo, a brother to Indie (3), will soon be allowed to occupy his father's dressing room as Peter did as a five-year-old.

O'Mahony feels there are enough life lessons outside the back door.

"I love the aspect of giving the kids something to do, for them to be able to grow their own food," he said.

"I think kids these days are a million miles away from that now.

"I just want to give them the ability to do a bit of growing, particularly stuff that's quick during the summer, maybe a sunflower or perhaps a courgette.

"Indie got a great thrill after we planted an apple tree and then she was able to pick one.

"It's nice to give them a grounding, if you want to call it that; something they might take on in their life."

A learned resilience, a reminder that nothing is earned without effort.

"Yes, 100%. It's nice for them to see where stuff comes from, and the work that goes into it. I have worked hard to get where I am rugby-wise. Hard work is very important," he said.

This place calms him too; but even a garden has light and shade.

"It's been much easier since I've had the kids," he admitted. "Before, I would take a loss or a row in a training session with me and carry it over the weekend. I'd be thinking about it night and day.

"Now I just don't have the time for that. There's too much craic at home with the kids. They don't care, they don't want to hear about it."

He's suffered significant setbacks; dropped as Lions captain, dropped by the new Irish coach; miles from home, only home can remove him from those jarring moments.

"It helps a lot. You enter a different world and it takes you out of camp for 15 minutes or so. It takes your mind off it, it doesn't fester," he said.

"Without this release, I would have got worse. You'd be cross, grumpy - even worse than I normally am! But I was lucky to have kids young. It got rid of that to a large extent.

"I find it easier now to switch off, leave it at the door."

He can escape at home but even at home does he need to escape?

"I should but I don't. It seeps in sometimes and you're cranky but it can't last long with the smallies around. You just try to stay chilled. But you can't stop a WhatsApp message coming in," he said.

Rugby will resume - some day - after Twickenham's torment. Andy Farrell's Ireland are taking time to reach full bloom. O'Mahony is an optimistic gardener, though, knowing that whatever goes down must come up.

Dove Men+Care brand ambassador Peter O'Mahony was speaking in the Aviva Stadium, celebrating a new definition of strength; one with care at its centre.

Belfast Telegraph