Bleyendaal hails Foley influence in giving him 'freedom to play'
Tyler Bleyendaal paid tribute to the late Anthony Foley for helping to propel him and his team-mates to greater heights this year as he accepted the Munster Player of the Year award in Cork.
Kiwi out-half Bleyendaal, who is also nominated for the EPCR Player of the Year, won the award ahead of hooker Niall Scannell and prop John Ryan. The 2017 Munster ceremony, in association with the Irish Independent, was attended by 250 guests and 11 awards were handed out on the day.
Bleyendaal (26), who previously won a World Rugby Junior Championships as captain of New Zealand, has played 29 times for Munster and scored one try since his arrival in 2014. And despite a number of injuries, he has fought back to full fitness, and he thanked the likes of Axel Foley for keeping faith in him and helping him to bigger and better things in 2016-'17.
"Rassie Erasmus had an impact on everyone since he came in and he helped to release the shackles. But that was along with Jacques Nienaber, Jerry Flannery, Felix Jones and, of course, Axel, at the start of the season.
"As a team those guys gave us freedom to play without consequence and to play with a bit more instinct. My game came on because the guys gave me a chance, and I was just getting consistent game-time this season. I had been out with injury and hadn't played a lot for 18 months there. But I was able to build into games. That's what you need. And now we have the opportunity to compete in a Pro12 semi-final."
Winger Darren Sweetnam was crowned young player of the year, while flanker Conor Oliver was announced as the academy player of the year. Barry McGann was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Joy Neville was crowned referee of the year. Siobhán Fleming won the women's award, with Cork Con the senior club of the year, and Clonmel the junior club of the year.
Presentation Brothers' College were the school of the year with Nenagh Ormond presented with the gong for the club youth section of the year and Fethard & District winning the club mini section of the year prize.