Foley eager to stay upwardly mobile on Emerging Ireland springboard
IT looked for all the world like a tour from hell, the kind of end-of-season jaunt to be avoided.
Spending two weeks in Tbilisi as part of an Emerging Ireland squad is no one's idea of glamour.
Off the beaten track, limited exposure and games against Georgia, Uruguay and a South African Presidents' XV was no one's idea of how to spend June.
But, the Tbilisi Cup has proven to be such a success that Ireland are entering a team again this year.
Five of those who summered in Georgia ended up playing their part in Ireland's Six Nations-winning campaign in the spring. Rhys Ruddock was the only one of those who had been capped before their jaunt, with Dave Kearney, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy and Marty Moore all playing a role having made their international bows this season.
Below those marquee names, there is a coterie of others who used the tour as a springboard for breakthrough years for their provinces.
At Leinster, Noel Reid is joint-top try-scorer after impressing Matt O'Connor, while Ulster project players Rob Herring and Robbie Diack have forced their way into Joe Schmidt's extended Ireland squads.
Munster's find of the season has been Dave Foley, who has doubled his appearances and puts his success down to the game time and trust he got from Allen Clarke – then an Emerging Ireland coach – last summer.
"My mindset changed probably after the Emerging Ireland tour," said the second-row.
"I was relaxed over there when I went playing. I kind of had a fair idea I was going to be starting because I was given the line-outs to look after.
"I didn't have the pressure of not starting. I could just relax into my game and play my game how it was and played quite well.
"I felt that was something I had to move forward with, just relax, take it one game at a time and don't be looking for my next game, just play the game in hand. That is where it was for me."
Connacht forwards coach Dan McFarland is currently preparing to name his squad for this year's instalment of the emerging players' tour which will be held in Romania and will see the Irish youngsters face Russia, Uruguay and the host country in Bucharest.
And, while Foley is still holding out hope for making Schmidt's senior squad's trip to Argentina, he is a big fan of the concept.
"Everyone wants to play for Ireland. Whether I go on either of the two tours is not up to me, but of course I have Irish ambitions," said the 25-year-old.
"I have had a good bit of game time here with Munster, but I wasn't getting a lot of game time last year and it was great for me to get that (in the Tbilisi Cup) and that is probably what pushed me forward.
"It's been a good season. I'm turning 26 next week so I'm not as young as people think.
"I'm trying to break into the side for a long time but I've been learning and I've been willing to wait and I've just wanted to take my chance and really push forward."
He's done just that, becoming a consistent performer in Rob Penney's engine room and was probably the only Munster player to emerge from Saturday's debacle against Ulster at Thomond Park with any credit.
The outgoing coach gave Foley his chance and, having stuck with his native province when others came calling, the lock is grateful for the tough love the New Zealander showed: "We have had a few tough chats, I suppose, up to this year, but he has been a huge influence on my career," said Foley.
"He was ultimately the one who gave me the nod this season, given me a lot of game time. He has been really important to my career."