Leinster coach Leo Cullen has spoken of Anthony Foley’s singular focus and intelligence as he paid tribute to the late Munster head coach.
he former Ireland second-row told a press conference at UCD today how his own career had mirrored the Shannon man in it’s progression.
Foley passed away overnight on Sunday morning in Paris as a result of a fluid build up on his lungs related to heart disease. He was in the French capital ahead of Munster’s fixture against Racing 92 which was subsequently postponed.
Cullen attended Foley’s removal alongside a number of his squad members on Thursday, before returning to Dublin to continue preparations for Sunday’s European Champions Cup game against Montpellier.
The event at UCD this afternoon was ostensibly to preview that game, but inevitably the 38-year-old was asked to give his thoughts on the tragic events of the past week.
“It's been a really strange week," Cullen said.
"It's a really strange week for me, it’s really hard to tell how other people react but for me personally Axel was somebody I knew and was aware of since I was 14 years of age.
"He was the number eight on the Irish schools tour in ’92 that went to New Zealand. I was the number eight on the Irish school tour that went to Australia four years later in ‘96.
“I always would have watched him, been aware of him at that stage and his progression. When he made his debut for Ireland, I remember it well. Watching him with Shannon, watching him with Munster and going on to captain Munster.
“We played as teammates with Ireland and shared rooms together so it was a really tough time, to see what's happened.
“It's very difficult to have any reason to it. Our thoughts are with his family at the moment and obviously with all the Munster players and their staff as well. We can’t even imagine what they are going through at the moment. We wish them the very best for what’s ahead this weekend and beyond."
Asked about Foley the player, Cullen said: "He's immersed in rugby from such a young age.
"The fact that he's your club man, your team man. Players tend to gravitate towards those types of people because he's very singular in his focus and that’s helping his team win. He was smart in the way he went about doing things.”