Wednesday 7 December 2016

He set the standards for Munster and paved the way for all who followed

Published 17/10/2016 | 02:30

Anthony Foley in good spirits at a Munster press conference two weeks ago. Photo: Sportsfile
Anthony Foley in good spirits at a Munster press conference two weeks ago. Photo: Sportsfile

It was the eve of the 2006 Heineken Cup final in the Millennium Stadium and the battle lines were already being drawn by Anthony Foley.

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The Munster captain stood beside a trophy he had built his dreams around. With Biarritz captain Thomas Lievremont on the other side, Foley was asked by one of the photographers to put his hand on the Heineken Cup.

Foley was having none of it: he had no intention of putting his hand on the Cup until he and his Munster team-mates stood up and fought for it in the final the following day.

What Foley did have in his hands was the hopes of an army of followers. His dream of building Munster into the best team in Europe became our dream. His passion and love for Munster became our passion and love for Munster. His conviction of standing up and fighting for what he believed in became our conviction of standing up and fighting for what we believe in.

More people became supporters because of the character of Munster, and fans' emotions became a reflection of Foley's because that was the strength of his personality.

When he lifted the Heineken Cup 24 hours later, the feelings that followed were like nothing I've ever experienced before. At that moment, it felt like nothing could ever beat this.

It felt like a one-off - just like the man who finally got his hands on the cup and help deliver a dream for everyone to share.

'Stand Up and Fight' became a line to represent Munster's ethos, and Foley embodied it.

When he was announced as the new Munster head coach two years ago I never saw a man as proud.

At training that day in UL he wore a smile and exuded an energy which was infectious.

Later, we sat at the press conference and listened to a man who spoke about his dream of rebuilding Munster. What was striking was the goodwill in the room for him. I shook his hand and wished him luck, and meant it so much because of everything he had given to us as a player.

After the glory years challenging times lay ahead but, again, here was Foley ready to stand up and fight for a team and cause that he never stopped believing in.

Last Thursday in UL I walked into the restaurant before Munster training and heard laughter from a group sitting down having breakfast together.

I looked over and there was Foley surrounded by players. Later on the training pitch, Foley smiled and laughed with the players and the coaches as they warmed up for training.

Foley looked like there was nowhere else in the world he would rather be as he coached and gave direction to the players.

On the eve of the 2008 Heineken Cup final at the Millennium Stadium Paul O'Connell stood beside a trophy he had built his dreams around.

O'Connell was asked by one of the photographers to put his hand on the Heineken Cup. But O'Connell was having none of it; he had no intention of putting his hand on the Cup until he and his Munster team-mates stood up and fought for it in the final the following day.

It felt like a legacy from Foley.

Foley set standards in Munster and paved the way for O'Connell and others to follow in Irish rugby. He showed us the value of having a dream and believing in it. He showed us how to Stand Up And Fight.

Ni bheidh a leitheid ann aris.

Irish Independent

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