Friday 24 November 2017

Anthony Foley: In his own words

The Munster legend wrote for the Irish Independent in our weekly supplement to share his thoughts on the game. Here are some extracts from his columns

Anthony Foley shared his thoughts in his Irish Independent articles. Photo: Sportsfile
Anthony Foley shared his thoughts in his Irish Independent articles. Photo: Sportsfile

Anthony Foley

Getting the coach's job - August 2014: After 14 seasons as a player and being involved as a coach since 2009, it is a real honour to be leading Munster into this season as head coach.

Over the years I've had the experience of working under and alongside some of the best coaches in the game, so for me to be able to put my own stamp on Munster is a great thrill. Hopefully, the management team and I can bring some success to the province in our time.

Anthony Foley in 2014. Photo: Sportsfile
Anthony Foley in 2014. Photo: Sportsfile

When selecting the coaching team to work alongside me I felt it was important to work with talented lads that are engrained in the traditions of Munster rugby. I think having the likes of Ian Costello, Jerry Flannery, Brian Walsh and Mick O'Driscoll here provides us with all of those attributes.

I don't think it needs to be said or spelled out how much it means to every one of us to be involved in this Munster team. We all want to contribute, we all want to give our best. We're looking forward to it, we've all worked our way through the game and we're just delighted to be given the opportunity.

Right now we are a week away from the start of the action, when we will get our Guinness Pro12 campaign under way against Edinburgh at Thomond Park. But tonight we face a tricky test against an up-and-coming London Irish side in Waterford, a game we are all looking forward to.

I think it's fair to say our first pre-season game last week against Gloucester didn't go exactly to plan, but despite the defeat in Kingsholm we were still able to take some positive things from the game.

Above all, I was delighted to be able to give 11 of our young lads their first taste in the Munster senior shirt. The experience that they took from that game will be invaluable for them. They now have a target, they know the standards required and they can work towards hitting those marks.

I was also very happy with the work-rate that the boys showed, even when Gloucester were running in tries in the second half. I thought it was a real test of their appetite for hard work, and to see us move the length of the pitch in the last minute for Cian Bohane to score his try was a lift. Despite their difficulties, there was plenty of pride in the shirt - and effort. That's all we can ask.

Tonight will be another tough game, but we will be bolstered by the return of a handful of lads who are now finishing up their pre-season. It will be great for everyone involved to get a run-out in Waterford and I hope that everyone involved in the game in the county enjoys the experience.

But from next week on it will all be about hitting form from the off. It will be somewhat strange that all of our home games will be in Thomond Park this year, seeing as Musgrave Park is in the middle of an exciting redevelopment, but I'm sure the players will thrive on it. Without doubt, we'll miss playing on the banks of the Lee this year, but we'll be back before too long and I'm sure our Cork supporters will make the trip to shout us on.

With regards to the squad, I am really happy with how we are looking. In total, we have a squad of 44 players and I think we have recruited well. The new boys - Robin Copeland, Andrew Smith and Martin Kelly - have slotted into the squad nicely, and we'll have Tyler Bleyendaal to join up in the next few weeks as well. I'm confident that if we can get everyone fit and ready, we have the squad to make a real impact this season.

In fairness, we've struggled at times with key injuries in the last season or two, but despite that we always went out to win - no matter what competition we played in. But this year, with nobody guaranteed their place in the European Champions Cup, it makes our Guinness Pro12 campaign all the more important.

We've seen in the past if teams take their eye off the ball for a split second it can be hard to work their way up the table again. A top-six finish is a basic requirement for everyone; a fourth-place finish will get you into the semi-finals, but we want to be winning these competitions.

In Munster, we have been used to picking up silverware over the years and I want that to happen again - both the Pro12 and European Cup. As professionals we want to get our job done and to start winning trophies.

To do that we'll need to change a couple of things. We aim to improve our use of ball; we'll try to play the game in the right areas; we are keen to not give up points easily, we want a tight defence; and we want a pack of forwards that will both retain possession and win us ball.

I can't wait to get it under way.

Giving the fans something to shout about
- November 2014

Tonight at Thomond Park promises to be a typical Irish inter-pro derby. Both sides will be keen to get one over on each other, and both squads will be hoping to face into the Champions Cup double-header week on the back of a positive result.

The fact that this is a meeting of second-placed Ulster and ourselves in third means there is plenty more up for grabs than bragging rights. We have looked at this week's fixtures and we understand that there could be plenty of movement in the table after this round.

This week we have been boosted by the return of all the lads who have been on international duty in November, although we won't see some of them until next week. But they have all come back with smiles on their faces and with a pep in their step. They have had an excellent month above in Dublin.

The group have had fine results in the green shirt in the last few weeks - and long may it continue, into and beyond the Six Nations, hopefully. We were delighted to see the lads performing at that level and, hopefully, we can continue to contribute to the squad over the next period.

But that will all come from playing well and performing for Munster. It is a big two months for us and the team's form will dictate how many more players manage to get into the Irish squad.

We are fortunate to have strength in depth across our squad and there is always a boost when players continue the good form when internationals are away. I think that our performance in the first game of this latest block has left the squad in good shape and the lads carried the momentum from the last month or so into the win at Dragons.

It took us a little bit of time to settle though. We learned a lot in the first half and we came out and controlled the second half in terms of where the game was played, and the tempo. That was pleasing to see. To come away out of Rodney Parade with a result like that was no mean feat.

It is not a place that we go to and get easy results, so we are satisfied with the outcome.

Tonight will be a tough outing though - it always is against Ulster. They did well last week to beat Ospreys - their first loss of the season - in a game played in very difficult conditions.

We remember the defeats at home and away to them last year and we just want to make sure we don't have a repeat of it this year. We want to start building a platform for ourselves in Thomond Park and hopefully we can get the Munster crowd behind us.

We want to give our supporters something to shout about on these big nights in our season.

Preparing for success
- August 2015

As a squad it's been a long two-and-a-bit months since we got back into pre-season training, but now that we're getting game-time under our belts again the lads are really beginning to feel the excitement of a new season just around the corner.

For the players, it's all about getting game-time now; it's about transitioning from the strength and conditioning side of our preparation into the rugby side of it; it's about getting fellas used to playing the game again, recovering, turning up and training again.

I think it's fair to say that we were not too happy with the results and certain aspects of the performances in our two pre-season friendlies to date, but as a coaching team we have taken a lot of positives from the games against Grenoble and Connacht.

Ideally, we would have two wins in the bag, have scored lots of tries and be tight in defence, but to be honest it's not about winning at this stage for us - that comes in a fortnight. It's all about guys playing for position, creating competition and about having a look at players. Lads have put it in the work in pre-season and have earned the right to wear the jersey - so hopefully we'll see more of that in the next fortnight.

But we're well aware that time is running out as well. We're playing Treviso in a week's time and, after these three games, I'll have my 15 in my head. It's up to the lads to force their way in there. There are positions up for grabs, so it will be an interesting time for a number of guys.

Like every new season the faces have changed slightly around the place, especially with all the lads that are away on Ireland duty. But we're happy - the new players have slotted in very well, a lot of the long-term injured lads are finding their feet again, and the academy lads are taking their opportunity and looking to create a reputation for themselves.

These young lads will likely come back to us within a year or two's time - some of them might be quicker than that - but it's up to the player himself in how quickly he grasps what we're doing. I'm happy though - I'm getting a lot of confidence from looking at some of these players.

Meanwhile, this weekend is a massive time for our lads that are involved in the Ireland camp. They'll be getting the good or bad news at some stage in the next few days, and I think everybody is hopeful that none of them come back to us yet.

However, if they do, we need to be prepared for the fella that is crestfallen. It'll be hard news to take at the time; it's tough to miss out having gotten this close to going to a World Cup.

For us it's about making sure those lads are dealt with in the right manner and helping them through it. I'm hoping we don't have that issue next Monday - and hopefully all our guys who are up there still have a good World Cup and come back to us fit and healthy.

The World Cup is a massive competition and I was fortunate enough to get to two of them. It's something that every player would look back at and cherish.

All you can do is everything in your power, but you are just hoping Joe Schmidt isn't ringing you on Sunday or Monday morning - because he won't be delivering good news at that stage. Best of luck to the lads.

Keeping focus on the game
- December 2015

The cancellation of last weekend's Champions Cup fixture with Stade Francais has thrown up an interesting fixtures dilemma for us, but it also afforded us the chance to rest up a few weary bodies in preparation for tomorrow's meeting with Connacht at Thomond Park.

It will be interesting to see how the games are scheduled down the line. It is something that I have very little to do with - we're leaving that decision up to the EPCR and senior officials from both clubs - but I'm sure they will come to a sensible solution at the end of the day.

To be honest, I don't think midweek games are the answer - it probably wouldn't be fair on any of the teams that have their games to play, so I'm not sure what agreement will be reached. It's a waiting game for everyone involved. Even last week, when we heard the game was called off, it was all a bit of a surprise. I knew there was bound to be concerns about the game going ahead considering all the atrocities that took place in Paris, but it was my job and that of the management team to have the boys ready and to assume the game was going to go ahead. Once word filtered through to us that the match was postponed, we quickly switched focus to Connacht.

But those few days we spent preparing for the Stade Francais game won't have gone to loss. We'll bank that work and it will make for easy revision whenever we are pencilled in to play them in the coming weeks or months.

The fine line between

Winning and losing
- September 2016

Sometimes the difference between winning and losing a game that you deserve to win is very small.

Last weekend in Newport, we were the better team in my eyes - but it took some good defending at the death to close it out and take the points. It is not lost on me either, that we dropped the ball over the line there last year as well and we didn't get the seven points. I think Darren Sweetnam was trying to do the right thing in hoping to steal a few yards for the conversion, but he just needed to have some ball security around it too. It put years on us for that few seconds after what happened. I'd put money on the fact that will never happen to Darren again in his career - he got a shock alright, but in a good way.

But, all in all, it was a display that could have won the game by more - yet we could have lost the game. They're the thin margins I mentioned. We just need a clinical, ruthless approach to our performance.

It would have been heartbreaking to lose a game in the last minute. I think the boys stood fast and remained patient and, fortunately enough, we got the bodies in front of them, turned up the pressure and the knocked it on.

Tomorrow against Edinburgh we will get a real stern test in the scrum, that's for sure. We have always recognised their forwards as one of the better packs in the league. They have a formidable scrum and a very, very good defensive lineout.

As we saw against Leinster, every Alan Solomons team has a lot of heart. They never give up, they'll fight to the bitter end, and they are proud of their club. We need to make sure we get a win at home. We want to build something around Thomond Park and Irish Independent Park. Unfortunately, our first outing at home we got turned over by Cardiff. Now, on our first day in Thomond, we want to get off to a sound start.

And we're really looking forward to it - I always look forward to home games. It should be a great atmosphere in the ground and we're hoping for a bright atmosphere and a performance to match it.

Irish Independent

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