Sunday 11 December 2016

'It was only when you saw how many people were affected by his death that you realise the legend Axel was'

Player Diary

Jack O’Donoghue

Published 28/10/2016 | 02:30

Fans pay tribute to Anthony Foley at last weekend’s clash against Glassgow Warriors. Picture: Sportsfile
Fans pay tribute to Anthony Foley at last weekend’s clash against Glassgow Warriors. Picture: Sportsfile

After the toughest week of our lives, that performance and result has given us some comfort and a real boost going into these few weeks.

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The loss of Anthony Foley is something we never thought we'd have to deal with as a squad, but after all the grief of the previous few days, events at Thomond Park brought so much solace to us last Saturday.

It was a lovely day, the result was unbelievable, but the crowd at Thomond Park made the occasion, and the tributes made to Axel on the day were unreal. It was only when you saw how many people were affected by his death that you realise the legend that he was. It was a nice touch from everyone and it was great to see.

I want to thank everyone for the kind messages and support that we all received in the last week and a half. It means a lot to everyone in the squad when you see best wishes from every corner of the country coming in, but the 25,600 fans that showed up really helped us through that game.

It was ironic, but the performance that we put together was exactly what Axel had been trying to coach us to do all along; that's the way he wanted us to play. A performance like that shows what we are capable of and that is exciting for the games to come because that's the benchmark now.

Accuracy

Jack O'Donoghue
Jack O'Donoghue

In the last few weeks it has been our accuracy at the key moment that let us down, but that was there last weekend. We were more direct, we threw the offloads and we took a few chances. Things went our way for sure, but at the same time we all knew our roles too. Even when we went down to 14 men it didn't faze us at all, we just stuck to the game plan we had. We had our reviews down and we spotted the areas that we wanted to exploit.

At the start of the week Rassie had a real tough job on his hands, but he showed all of us what kind of a guy he is in that couple of days. He was so strong for all of us and it made us all realise that we could get through this together. I'm sure the performance was a relief for him - like all of us - but he had us in a great mindset going into the game and I think he was proud of how we handled ourselves.

We tried to keep our preparation as normal as possible in the days before the funeral. Routine is very important to rugby players and we trained a couple of times, but it was really tough. You could see everyone was struggling with the news. Everyone was quiet, no one really did too much talking, but there was nothing to be said I suppose. We came in to training, got together as a squad and coped with Axel's death together. We laid out the week as best we could, but it was tough on everyone.

You always hear about the 16th man and the help they can be to a team, but even when Keith was sent off it still felt like we had 16 men, such was the support that we were shown.

I was on the bench for the first hour or so and it was a really emotional place. It was gripping; it was a real adrenaline rush, which is really strange as a replacement. You felt like you were in the thick of every tackle and ruck and all I wanted to do was get out there and get stuck in like the rest of the lads. Genuinely, I have never experienced anything like the atmosphere in Thomond Park last weekend.

At the end when we sang 'Stand Up and Fight' on the pitch, you could see how much the win meant to all of us. And having Anthony's boys, Dan and Tony, in there in the middle with us was great. I hope being there and taking part with us helped them in some small way.

And Axel's family are amazing, the way they have dealt with such a setback in their lives is incredible. Then to see Tony's Facebook campaign in his father's memory is a lovely touch. For sure, a lot of the players in the squad will be taking on the eight Sunday masses challenge in Axel's memory. They are all part of the Munster family as well and we'll never forget them.

For me, I'll always be grateful to Axel; he gave me my first opportunity at Munster. He put me where I am today, he saw the potential in me and it is going to be tough to move on as a rugby player without him there.

He was always there for a chat, and he gave me so much advice in the last couple of seasons. He always had a tip for you, things like how you position your feet at the back of a scrum to get quick ball, or tricks at the lineout. We'll all miss him around the club.

We reviewed our game as usual last Monday morning after and even though we played so well, we still spotted plenty of areas that we can improve on. It is another inter-pro game this weekend and it will be another big test for us.

And we're looking forward to heading up to Ravenhill too; it's always a noisy place to play, they get right behind their team. The shoe will be on the other foot this time too: last weekend we had all of Thomond Park shouting us on, but Ulster will have their supporters shouting for them tonight.

Ulster showed their spirit against Exeter at the weekend - they never give up - and that's the attitude they approach every game with. It will be a real gripping game, I'm sure, and we'll be tested up front and with the standard of backs they have at their disposal too.

Having such a big game to look forward to this week is great for us. The result against Glasgow is great, but it will be no good if we don't back it up with a good performance tonight.

I'm sure the spirit of Axel will be with us for the rest of the season and years to come, but as a squad our aim is to hit the targets and standards that he wanted us to reach. If we do that we'll do alright.

Irish Independent

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