Twelve months ago, it felt like Peter O'Mahony's role in the Irish team was changing.

The form of Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan, the latter having starred on the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, had seen the Munster veteran squeezed out of the starting team.

At 32-years-old (in 2021), it seemed like a natural evolution for both O'Mahony and Ireland, and it appeared to be working. The all-Leinster back row was working nicely, and were outstanding as a unit in the win against New Zealand this time last year.

It seemed to be suiting O'Mahony too, the flanker bringing the right blend of impact and experience off the bench when Ireland were needing it.

How foolish we were in thinking the former Lions captain would be settling for a place on the bench.

In the second half of last season, he pulled out two of his biggest Munster performances in the Champions Cup against Exeter and Toulouse, and having swapped back and forth with Conan during the Six Nations, O'Mahony has seemingly reclaimed his place in Andy Farrell's first choice back row.

Starting all three Tests against New Zealand in the summer, as well as the win against South Africa earlier this month, he returns to the side for tomorrow's meeting with Australia having been rested in last week's win versus Fiji.

He admits it took him a while to get to grips with Andy Farrell's gameplan.

"One thing I always hang my hat on is my ability to learn things and be very coachable," he said at an event for Aviva Ireland yesterday.

Peter O'Mahony, pictured at the launch of Aviva Ireland’s Christmas donation drive yesterday - the insurer have pledged to donate €10 to charity through its partner, FoodCloud, for every home insurance policy sold over the festive period.

"I struggled with a few things that maybe Andy and the lads were looking at, it took me a while to figure it out for myself, I think. I'm starting to get there. I’m starting to really figure it out and obviously with the more time that comes, the more experienced you get and the more practice you do, the better you’re going to get.

"Every day you’re going in and you’re figuring things out and improving. As soon as that stops, that’s the day that I’m out the gap. You’ve got to keep wanting to be better always and to keep being hungry for knowledge."

Currently on 88 caps for Ireland, he could, in theory, hit his century at next year's World Cup, but admits it's a bit too far down the line for him to be thinking about just yet.

"I've picked up some things here and there. I've managed to keep my body in good shape, I've been lucky with injuries, I've always said that. I've only had a couple of serious ones, but in the last few years I've avoided any of that.

He'll be 34 by that point, but doesn't have to look too far for an example of someone keeping the fire burning, with his Ireland captain Johnny Sexton nominated for World Player of the Year at 37, and hinting at continuing his career post-2023.

And while he says he's seen multiple teammates excel deep into their 30s, he says he takes the most confidence from his own form in the last year.

"It's a cliche, but age is only a number, my body feels better in the last 12 months than it has in the last five or six years. [There are] Lots of different reasons, but I feel like my body is in a good place, I'm enjoying my rugby and the number after your name doesn't really matter if those things are good."

The biggest driving factor for that good form, he says, has been his ability to avoid major injuries.

While he's picked up plenty of knocks along the way in his career, a torn anterior cruciate ligament at the 2015 World Cup, whch saw him ruled out for nearly 12 months, is the only major injury he's had to deal with.

"I've picked up some things here and there. I've managed to keep my body in good shape, I've been lucky with injuries, I've always said that. I've only had a couple of serious ones, but in the last few years I've avoided any of that.

"I've picked up things from guys here and there, and the strength and conditioning groups I've worked with have been brilliant for me, to be honest, in both camps [Ireland and Munster].

"They've been looking after me, while keeping on top of my GPS stuff, to really get the most out of myself, and pushing myself against guys with numbers like Josh [Van der Flier] and Caelan [Doris], Jack Conan, Nick Timoney, down to Jack O'Donoghue, John Hodnett, these guys, really pushing standards."

Ireland cap off their Autumn Nations Series programme tomorrow against Australia, looking to make it three wins in a row to see out 2022.

O'Mahony is one of eight changes to the team following last week's win against Fiji, but the 35-17 victory has been largely criticised, both within the Irish camp and in the media.

In a year which has seen Ireland beat New Zealand three times, as well as England and the Springboks, the sloppy performance fell below the standards set in their more high-profile win.

And he says that level of self-criticism is nothing new for the team.

"When you play for Ireland, we have the highest expectations of ourselves, higher than anyone.

"A big thing for us is to put big performances after big performances, and challenging ourselves to improve after you've performed quite well, back it up and go a step above. We're the ultimate critics of ourselves.

"I know Andy [Farrell] was vocal about it, that's just the way we speak about things. He's a very up-front, honest man, and sometimes we'll keep that kind of stuff in-house, but he wears his heart on his sleeve to be fair to him, which is something you respect massively."

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