Rugby Community Stands ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ To Mourn Passing of Anthony Foley

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Too many times we hear the statement made that somebody “epitomises such and such”. Oft is the phrase uttered that somebody is “such and such through and through”.  They are used, on many an occasion, with an element of poetic licence and will nicely embellish a description of someone or something that is good, honest or maybe merely decent without any suggestion of succeeding at the highest level.

In Anthony Foley however, it would be difficult not to use either phrase with anything than total and utter justification when describing this giant of Irish National & Provincial rugby.

Anthony was the son of Brendan Foley who played for Munster in the 1970s & 1980s and was part of the legendary side that beat the All Blacks in ‘78.  He grew up playing for Shannon and Munster, for whom he played 202 times scoring 195 points.  He also played 62 tests for Ireland – skippering them on 3 occasions.  He took over the Munster captaincy in 2005 and led them to Heineken Cup glory in 2006 when they defeated Biarritz at The Millennium Stadium by 23 points to 19.  He began coaching Munster in 2011 and succeeded Rob Penney in 2014 as Head Coach – the position he still held when he sadly and suddenly passed away shortly before their European Champions Cup game this last weekend.

One Club

Anthony Foley truly epitomised Munster Rugby. He was a one-club man committing himself totally to the province of his birth.  A hard-playing, tough, uncompromising but fair individual, always giving one hundred and ten percent and always willing to shake hands or share a beer after the most brutal of contests, he genuinely encapsulated Munster in all its values and culture through and through.

He began playing at a time when rugby was turning from an amateur sport into a professional one and it was a transition that suited a player such as he who, despite living life to the full, was a focused individual on the park.  He was regularly cited as someone who embodied the best qualities of those times before and after professionalism had entered the game.

Colour and Passion

He was part of the era of Munster rugby that brought colour and passion to the newly formed European Cup competition and it was that team that elevated club rugby in that format to something more akin to international test matches rather than the week-in week-out slog of national championships.

It was players such as he, along with Keith Wood, Ronan O’Gara and Anthony Horgan that created an aura of invincibility about Munster, particularly when teams travelled to Thomond Park where the crowd would envelope their team with a veil of support that would truly prove to be ‘the 16th man’.  What’s more, the rural roots of this Irish country province were the perfect counter-point to the more well-healed traditional urban clubs from England and of course, the big cheeses from the Emerald Isle’s own capital Dublin and perhaps their greatest rivals – Leinster.

Rugby Brain

Martin Corry of Leicester & England remembered his old adversary fondly on Sunday and summed up Foley’s character in one phrase stating that he was simply ‘a proper rugby bloke’.

Yet his commitment and work-rate belied a skillful footballer who was a talented hurler and Gaelic footballer in his youth. He was a thinker much in the same mould as Nick Easter latterly and his old coach Eddie O’Sullivan said that when Foley was on the pitch it was like having another coach out there.

The concept of a player staying with one club throughout his career is rarer and rarer these days but the dedication that Anthony showed to the red of Munster was clearly reciprocated during the many tributes to him after the sad news was communicated. To use one of Max Boyce’s many famous rugby phrases, ‘there were grown men crying’ outside the Yves du Manoir yesterday.  Spare also a thought for O’Gara – so long a team-mate, friend and brother – about to face his old colleague as an opposing coach, being told he had been cut down in his prime.

Anthony Foley was 42 and is survived by his wife Olive and two sons Dan and Tony.

RIP Axel – a ‘proper rugby bloke’.

Anthony Foley: 1973 – 2016

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