Saturday 22 October 2016

Foley enjoying life in shadows after vacating centre stage

Published 04/10/2016 | 02:30

Anthony Foley laughs off the notion there’s less pressure this season. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Anthony Foley laughs off the notion there’s less pressure this season. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

We see less of Anthony Foley these days since he was supplanted as Munster's main man, but if the former captain is struggling with the idea of being part of the support staff, he hides it very well.

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Coaching, he says, was always a collaborative effort and the fact that he no longer makes the final calls on selection and transfers doesn't bother him.

Less pressure? "There's always pressure," he responds.

You might think that Foley is simply putting a brave face on a tough situation, but there is a lightness about his demeanour that wasn't apparent throughout last season, when he wore every disappointment like a fresh wound and took it all personally.

That's what comes from a life-long association with a team, and he was consistent in saying that if someone else could do a better job, he'd stand aside.


After two under-par campaigns, the powers-that-be decided to change the model and appoint Rassie Erasmus as director of rugby. The former Springbok brought defence guru Jacques Nienabar with him, and last year's main man melted into the shadows.

Now, Erasmus gets credit for the wins and stick over the defeats. There's only been one of those so far, but Munster started last season quickly and faded when the going got tougher.

This weekend, they step up in class as they travel to Dublin to take on Leinster. We'll know a lot more about how far they've come at 4.0 on Saturday evening and even more at the end of a month that sees them take on French champions Racing 92, Glasgow Warriors and Ulster in Belfast.

"It's a big time of the year for everyone," Foley said. "You can be guaranteed that nobody from Munster and Leinster is looking at Europe this week.

"It's all about momentum. Every coach will talk about it. If you get momentum in your side and you get your players used to winning, then winning becomes a habit, and sometimes even when it's not going well for you, you have that habit and you can find a way."

Munster's struggles last season were encapsulated in their defeat to Leinster at Lansdowne Road in April, a game they should have won but somehow conspired to let slip.

It summed up a campaign that started promisingly but fizzled out limply, and Foley carried the can. His place in the pecking order might have changed, but he says he is happy with his role.

"I'm enjoying it. I'm looking forward to the weekends and getting out and seeing the boys play," he said. "It's great, having other voices around the place who have different opinions is brilliant."

Foley has been impressed with what he has seen on the pitch thus far, with the Reds joining Ulster and Leinster in the Pro12 top three after last weekend's win over Zebre.

"Fellas are growing into the game-plan that's here this year," he said. "It's just making sure that we are all across what's needed and what areas of the pitch we want to play the game in, ensuring that we get that across and when we get there take the opportunities that we are creating.

"Even at the weekend there was a lot left out there, same as the previous week. You are not going to make every one, but you'd like to take more that we're getting at the moment.

"We're getting players back. We lost a couple of big players around this time last year, and definitely around our leadership side.

"What has changed this year is that when that void had be filled from within, a lot of those guys are still here now and playing well. Once we maintain good leadership through this period and until January where it's very critical, we have the opportunity to build on performances."

Irish Independent

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