| 18.2°C Dublin

Foley reaching for stars to seal World Cup spot

Close

Dave Foley, here being lifted in the lineout by team-mate Paul O'Connell, is keen to impress Joe Schmidt

Dave Foley, here being lifted in the lineout by team-mate Paul O'Connell, is keen to impress Joe Schmidt

SPORTSFILE

Dave Foley, here being lifted in the lineout by team-mate Paul O'Connell, is keen to impress Joe Schmidt

"My goal at the start of the season was just to get myself up the pecking order, but my goals now are game-to-game. When the internationals are away, I want to be one of the best players on the field."

What a difference a year makes.

Last February during Ireland's Six Nations campaign, Dave Foley was one of several players attempting to make the most of his chance ahead of Munster's Heineken Cup quarter-final meeting with Toulouse.

The Tipperary native duly seized the opportunity with both hands before going on to play a starring role in Munster's drubbing of the French powerhouse club.

Fast forward a year and Foley's goals have dramatically changed for the better.

A late bloomer, Foley has always admitted that he only began to take rugby seriously when he was selected to represent Munster Youths at the age of 17.

OPPORTUNITY

Attending CBS High School Clonmel, Senior Cup rugby wasn't exactly high on the priority list and having gone quietly under the radar, it wasn't until he excelled at provincial and international youth level that he began to make a name for himself.

He took up a sub-academy contract with Munster before being offered a full-time academy deal in 2009.

Like plenty of his current Munster team-mates, Foley spent many seasons playing in the AIL where his standout performances with UL Bohemians further enhanced his rapidly growing reputation.

With the likes of Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan, Donnacha Ryan and Billy Holland all ahead of him in the second-row pecking order, he knew he had to be patient, although he did contemplate leaving his home province on a few occasions.

As well as the seasoned internationals, Ian Nagle, who is the same age as Foley, was tipped for big things.

Rarely has a player come through the Munster system with such potential only to see it unfulfilled but, Foley stuck to the task at hand and is now reaping the rewards for his patience and perseverance.

"I suppose a few times in my career there was no light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

"There was a massive line of second-rows in front of me, and not just ordinary second-rows, but some of them were world-class and some of them were international class."

With O'Callaghan not the unmovable force he once was and consistent injuries to Ryan, Foley has firmly ticked the box of 'climbing up the pecking order' while his progress didn't go unnoticed by Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.

Having been one of the standout performers for Emerging Ireland in the 2013 Tbilisi Cup, it was only a matter of time before he took the next step.

His international debut deservedly arrived last November against Georgia and true to his career path to date, he put in a man-of-the-match performance that was later described as "titanic" by Schmidt.

The Ireland coach is a man who always keeps his cards close to his chest but the glint in his eye that day told you everything you needed to know about just how pleased he was with Foley's display, which was full of the leadership qualities that Schmidt demands of all his players.

Foley was interviewed on the pitch afterwards and despite being satisfied with his debut, he was far from content.

MISSION

"I wish it (debut) had arrived a few years earlier" - The words of a man who is quite clearly on a mission to make up for lost time.

It came as absolutely no surprise to see Foley replace the ineffectual Mike McCarthy on the bench for the subsequent win over Australia and the Munster man put another fine performance.

McCarthy had a year to forget and with Foley excelling at every opportunity, he now appears to have overtaken him ahead of the Six Nations and indeed the World Cup.

Foley's place in either squad is far from guaranteed however. Ryan's injury problems continue and he is in a race against time to be even considered.

Foley is unlikely to dislodge O'Connell or Devin Toner from the starting XV but his realistic attitude will allow him to primarily focus on securing a spot on the bench.

Dan Tuohy as well as the versatile and highly talented Iain Henderson will also provide major competition but after his performances in the November series, the Munster player remains in pole position.

"Now you've got a taste of it, you want more and you'll do anything to get more of it. You'll leave no stone unturned," Foley maintained.

He knows only too well how crucial these next three weeks are, beginning tomorrow in Italy against Zebre.

In a week when Munster confirmed that one of their most prized home-grown talents (JJ Hanrahan) will depart the province at the end of the season, there is no such worries surrounding Foley's future as he signed a two-year contract extension last month.

CALIBRE

"Securing players of this calibre is always a boost for the club and it shows our commitment to developing home-grown players and talent," Munster coach Anthony Foley said in light of his new deal.

He undoubtedly wishes he was saying the same about Hanrahan right now.

A kindly reminder that Foley only made his European debut this time last year puts his swift ascension into perspective.

A natural-born competitor and a lineout leader, Foley is learning from the best in O'Connell.

The Ireland captain is in the twilight of his illustrious career and the hope down south is that when the time comes, Foley will, like he has done throughout his career, step into the breach.

For now, his short-term focus will remain with Munster but, make no mistake about it, Ireland won't be too far from his thoughts - just like Foley won't be from Schmidt's.

Dave Foley Factfile

Age: 26

Birthplace: Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

Education: Clonmel High School

Club: UL Bohemians

Position: Lock

Height: 6ft 6in

Weight: 108kg

Munster caps: 46

Munster debut: Connacht, April 2010

Ireland caps: 2 - he has also played six times for Emerging Ireland

Ireland debut: v Georgia, November 2014

Irish Independent