Friday 23 February 2018

A passionate coach who was also a star for club, province and country, he had rugby in his blood

Anthony Foley had an illustrious career for Shannon, Munster and Ireland before becoming Munster's head coach.

Anthony Foley wins a lineout against England in 2000. Photo: Brendan Moran
Anthony Foley wins a lineout against England in 2000. Photo: Brendan Moran

Rúaidhrí O’Connor

The Club

While Anthony Foley would become synonymous with Munster's rise to becoming a European force, the foundations were laid at Thomond Park with Shannon in the All-Ireland League.

Before the provincial scene took over in the late 1990s and early 2000s, club rugby was pre-eminent in Ireland, and Foley's Shannon team were the dominant force.

The No 8 broke into the team as a teenager in 1992 and, by the following season, he was topping the league's try-scoring charts.

He would go on to become a central part of the best side in the competition's history, winning four titles in a row between 1995 and 1998.

Remarkably, Foley played in every one of the 48 league games during that run and was captain of the side that claimed the fourth title.

Denis Hickie, left, and Anthony Foley celebrate their sides victory over Scotland in 2000
Denis Hickie, left, and Anthony Foley celebrate their sides victory over Scotland in 2000

As part of a dominant pack that included fellow Ireland internationals John Hayes, Mick Galwey, Alan Quinlan and Eddie Halvey, the men in blue and black were unstoppable in this period - before Munster built their own dynasty on the back of their success.

He would contribute to a fifth All-Ireland League title in 2002, playing in the final as Shannon beat Cork Constitution 21-17.

Despite his involvement with Munster, his Shannon allegiance never wavered and he returned to the Shannon jersey one final time at Coonagh for a win over Blackrock in 2007.

Overall, he made 88 Division One appearances for the club over the course of 16 seasons, scoring 19 tries.

Anthony Foley clebrates winning the Heineken Cup
Anthony Foley clebrates winning the Heineken Cup

The Province

The son of Munster legend Brendan, who was part of the team that beat the All Blacks in 1978, Foley was always destined to wear the red jersey after growing up around the dressing-room, representing his province at underage level after starring for St Munchin's College.

The Killaloe native would go on to wear the red jersey 201 times and was the man who led the team to their Holy Grail in 2006 as he lifted the Heineken Cup.

Foley was on every step of that painful journey, playing in the province's first European match against Swansea at Thomond Park and starting the final defeats to Northampton and Leicester, as well as the semi-final losses to Stade Francais and Wasps.

Coming into the team as the game turned professional, he was one of the men who drove standards at Munster under the stewardship of Declan Kidney and Alan Gaffney - as the Irish side turned themselves into a European force in the early 2000s.

Anthony Foley practises his hurling skills after training at the 2003 World Cup. Photo: Brendan Moran
Anthony Foley practises his hurling skills after training at the 2003 World Cup. Photo: Brendan Moran

He was nearing the end of his playing career when he finally tasted the success he had worked so hard for on that famous day in Cardiff in 2006.

The Welsh capital was painted red as the match director beamed in footage from Limerick that roused the players as they struggled against an illustrious Biarritz team. Peter Stringer made his break and the rest was history.

Despite losing his place in the run-up to the 2008 final, Foley was voted the best No 8 in the history of the European Cup in 2010 - ahead of big names like Lawrence Dallaglio.

As well as the Heineken Cup, he won five Inter-provincial championships, three of which were Grand Slams, and also lifted the Celtic League and Celtic Cup.

Anthony Foley holds off a challenge while playing for Shannon in 1999
Anthony Foley holds off a challenge while playing for Shannon in 1999

The National team

Foley's success with Shannon marked him out for a career with Ireland, and he was elevated to national honours weeks after his 21st birthday in 1995.

He took to international rugby like a duck to water, crossing for a try on his debut against England at Lansdowne Road.

Anthony Foley pictured during Munster rugby squad training in 2005
Anthony Foley pictured during Munster rugby squad training in 2005

But it wasn't plain sailing for the youngster, who went to that year's World Cup but only played once, against Japan, and spent a long time out of the Test arena between 1997 and 2000.

After that came the development tour from hell to New Zealand under Brian Ashton - who infamously took him and three team-mates off at half-time of a 52-39 defeat of Rotorua. Shane Byrne followed soon after, and they became known as the 'Rotorua Five'.

Foley had to bide his time for his chance, but it came in 2000 when Warren Gatland recalled him to the side on the back of his form for Munster.

In what was an important season that saw the New Zealander hand debuts to five newcomers against Scotland, two games later they ended their long wait for a win over France in Paris - thanks to Brian O'Driscoll's hat-trick of tries. Foley would become a fixture in both Gatland and, subsequently, Eddie O'Sullivan's teams as Ireland went from strength to strength.

He was an important part of the side that ended a 19-year wait for a Triple Crown in 2004, before winning the last of his 62 Ireland caps a year later as Wales claimed the Grand Slam in Cardiff.

The coach

After retiring, Foley immediately began coaching at Munster, where he initially took charge of the 'A' side and the Under 20s.

He was responsible for nurturing many of the players now in the first team and was promoted to the role of forwards coach in 2011, and was also handed roles within the Ireland set-up under Declan Kidney - where he served as forwards coach and defence coach at different points.

When Rob Penney decided to take up a position in Japan in 2014, Munster promoted their former captain to the role of head coach.

However, the squad he took over was a pale imitation of the one he had played in and he struggled to get the desired results.

In his first season, the province crashed out of the Champions Cup at the pool stage after a humbling defeat to Saracens, but recovered in the Guinness Pro12 to reach the final - where they were well beaten by Glasgow Warriors.

In year two, fortunes plummeted further and the two-time champions again failed to emerge from their pool, and struggled to secure European qualification.Munster decided the time was right for a re-organisation and recruited South African Rassie Erasmus to fill the new role of Director of Rugby.

Foley remained as a head coach, with diminished power and responsibility for the breakdown and lineouts, but in interviews two weeks ago he was positive about his role in the set-up - and the future of Munster Rugby as a whole.

On Saturday night, that future was cruelly taken from him.

Career timeline


The name Foley was well-known in Shannon and Munster circles long before Brendan's son makes his All-Ireland League debut as a replacement in a 15-6 defeat to Young Munster at Thomond Park. His father was part of the team that beat the All Blacks in 1978 and the youngster has already made a name for himself as a schools star with St Munchin's, winning eight caps for Ireland schools.


On the back of his form with Shannon, Foley makes his Munster debut against Edinburgh Districts at Thomond Park, Limerick, as the province goes on to win the interprovincial championship with a grand slam. He then finishes the season as the All-Ireland League's top try scorer.


Foley marks his Ireland debut at the age of 21 with a try at Twickenham in a 20-8 defeat. He then goes on to make the World Cup squad and makes one appearance in South Africa off the bench against Japan.


The No 8 captains Shannon to the All- Ireland League title. It is their fourth league win in a row and Foley plays in all 48 games over the course of the four seasons from 1995.


After a three-year absence, Warren Gatland recalls Foley to his Ireland squad and he is ever-present in a transformative campaign. He starts the game in Paris when Brian O'Driscoll crossed for a famous hat-trick to end the long wait for a win away to France. Munster reach the Heineken Cup final for the first time, losing the final 9-8 to Northampton.


Foley is ever-present in Eddie O'Sullivan's team as Ireland claim their first Triple Crown since 1985. Scores a try in the win over Wales. Having lost the previous year's final to Leicester, this year's European campaign comes up short after a famous battle with Wasps at Lansdowne Road as the quest for a first Heineken Cup goes on.


Foley wins the last of his 62 caps against Wales as Mike Ruddock's men win the Grand Slam at the Millennium Stadium.


Lifts the Heineken Cup in Cardiff as Munster reach their Holy Grail thanks to a 23-19 win over Biarritz after a run to the final that includes a historic semi-final win over Leinster at Lansdowne Road.


Wins his 200th cap for Munster against Ulster at Ravenhill in April and plays his last game 10 days later against Glasgow. Misses out on selection for Munster's second European triumph and retires at the end of the season.


After working with Munster's 'A' and U-20 teams, he is appointed as Munster's forwards coach and also works with the Ireland management as forwards and head coach at different stages. Takes charge of the Ireland Wolfhounds.


After Rob Penney decides not to take up the option of another year on his contract, Foley takes over as Munster's head coach. His stint is not a happy one, as the province's waning fortunes continue and they fail to get out of their Champions Cup pool in successive seasons, while they lose the 2015 Pro12 final to Glasgow.


Munster's top brass decide to restructure the organisation and appoint Rassie Erasmus as director of rugby with Foley remaining as head coach, working under the South African.

October 16, 2016

Anthony Foley dies in Munster's team hotel on the eve of his side's European Champions Cup opener against Racing 92.

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