Tuesday 25 October 2016

Brent Pope: 25 years ago I remember a young No 8 named Anthony Foley teaching me a lesson

Published 17/10/2016 | 18:23

About 25 years ago I arrived on these shores as one of the original batch of New Zealand rugby players to play club rugby in Ireland.

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As a No 8 playing in the AIL League for St Mary’s, we made the always difficult trip to Limerick to face Shannon, a team made up of tough-as-teak forwards like Mick Galwey, Buddha Healy and many others.

Read more: 'When we got the news, all the players stayed together': Munster stars left reeling by Anthony Foley's tragic death

But on a mud-laden pitch, with the wind howling, I decided I would teach a young Irish schoolboy No 8 facing me a few lessons about the man’s game.

That young schoolboy  was Anthony Foley, and rather than me teaching him a lesson that day, the opposite occurred.

Every time he ran at me, I could see the aggression in his eyes, and every time I touched the ball he crunched me.

I said after that game, “wow this kid is pretty good”, and I predicted he would be a star.

Axel Foley and I had a mutual respect for each other and I always liked having a chat about backrow play whenever we met up.

He loved the amateur, pure days of rugby just as much as the modern game. Often a man of very few words, what he said was honest as it was wise. A slanted smile was never far away from his face, leaving you wondering what he thought of the points you were making.

As a broadcaster and a television station, we followed Foley and Munster’s Heineken Cup odyssey and during that time, he emerged as a natural leader.

Read more: 'Our anguish is bottomless' - Anthony Foley's family thank fans for support in these 'darkest days'

Foley’s strength was in his ability to read the game. There were players that may have been stronger, bigger and quicker but by the end of the game he would have worked out in his mind how to get the better of the opposition.

He knew the right things to say at the right time, knew as a captain which buttons to push and whose to leave alone.

He was very much to the fore in Munster’s success, and despite playing a number of times for Ireland you could always see the love and pride he had for Munster.

On a coaching level, he had to take the Munster head job but in many ways it was perhaps a year or two early for him and you always felt that – unlike other coaches that did not have the same passion – he couldn’t park the job when he went home.

Munster was his life and he wanted desperately for them to succeed. That was his rugby wish.

It is a sad day, not only for Irish rugby but for world rugby. Like the passing of Jonah Lomu last year, Anthony Foley has gone too soon.

Munster rugby has had some tough losses in recent years but none harder to take than the passing of the legend that was Anthony Foley.

May he rest in peace.

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