Frankie Sheahan: 'It seems so wrong to be talking about Anthony Foley in the past tense'
Published 17/10/2016 | 02:30
Little did I think, when I met Anthony Foley at Mick Galwey's 50th birthday last weekend, that it would be the last time I would ever spend time in his company.
A gang of us had a great weekend at the party in Gaillimh's house in Kilkenny.
We had the stories out and relived the great days and looked forward to many more in our new walks of life.
The last thing that was on anyone's mind is that we would be meeting again this week to say farewell to one of us. It's hard to take in
I'm numb with the shock since I heard it and I'm sure everyone else is the same way.
You might go a while without meeting up but this year has been a bit different.
We had the tenth anniversary of the first Heineken Cup win during the summer when we all met up in Spain.
Axel was in great form and it was the same a few weeks ago when I had my 40th in Cork.
I had heard about him when I was growing up in Cork.
I was in Pres and Anthony was around three age groups ahead of me, but we had a great senior team in Pres that year under Declan Kidney and everyone had heard about this massive all-rounder playing for Munchin's. But he was always ahead of himself, always capable of achieving things before everyone else.
By the time the likes of me broke into the Munster set-up, he was hanging out with Gaillimh and other lads who were seven or eight years older than him.
But rugby was his life. He used to go with his father Brendan back in the day when he was playing for Shannon and Munster, so all Axel was doing was continuing what had been laid before him.
It wasn't all plain sailing for him.
He had to wait an age for caps after his initial international breakthrough.
He wasn't the biggest or fastest No.8 but there were few in the world that had the intuition to play that position as well as he did. He had a fantastic rugby brain and he used it as a player and coach.
A lot of what Munster got in those years came from what they learned from their clubs.
Shannon had a wonderful team, we eventually stopped them in Con, and then you had Munsters as well.
Anthony took the best of the amateur era into the professional era.
He knew how to celebrate a win, knew what a hard-earned victory was worth but also knew how you had to prepare and look after all the small details.
But it seems so incredible and so wrong to be talking about him in the past tense.
He was in great form in Kilkenny at the weekend. I think he was enjoying the fact there was less pressure in the job this season.
He was always a great leader, he didn't just talk about stuff, he went out and did it.
He was always able to back it up. It was no surprise when he was the first one to go from playing and winning with Munster in the professional era, to take on the top job.
He brought pedigree to whole thing, but was great craic as well.
I know he wrote about it in his book, but we were laughing about it not long ago - the night he got dropped in the World Cup in Australia and we brought him out and hit the town in Melbourne.
We ended up in a casino and that was the night I hit the jackpot and won $93,000 (about €60,000).
Axel got on to the lads to come down and be part of it. Gaillimh and a few more had landed by the time the guy in the casino handed over 18 or 19 chips worth $5,000 each.
They suggested I would need some security staff but then took one look at the lads and said 'maybe not.'
Axel said to him: 'Don't worry, we'll mind him.'
We were going through all these auld yarns when we met during the summer and again at the birthday parties recently. John Hayes wouldn't be a regular but he was in Kilkenny last weekend as well and the craic was unreal.
It's just hard to believe what has happened. My wife Norma and I were just saying how tough this is for Anthony's wife Olive and their young boys, Tony and Dan. And of course his parents Brendan and Sheila and his sisters Rosie and Orla.
We are shocked and stunned and heartbroken by what has happened, so we can only imagine what they are going through.