Thursday 26 April 2018

Alan Quinlan: A brilliant father, son, brother, husband and friend

Shannon’s Alan Quinlan and Anthony Foley in 1997. Photo: James Meehan/INPHO
Shannon’s Alan Quinlan and Anthony Foley in 1997. Photo: James Meehan/INPHO

Alan Quinlan

The news strikes like a hammer to the face. So first there is shock. Then disbelief. And yesterday, anger.

Anger that this good man has been taken away not just from us but, more importantly, from his family - from Olive his wife, Dan and Tony, his sons, Brendan and Sheila, his parents, and Orla and Rosie, his sisters.

Anthony with his wife Olive and a Munster jersey. Picture Michael Cowhey - credit Limerick Leader
Anthony with his wife Olive and a Munster jersey. Picture Michael Cowhey - credit Limerick Leader

To the outside world, Anthony Foley was the ultimate rugby man. But to those who were lucky enough to know him, he was that and so much more. A brilliant dad. A loving husband. The most loyal of friends. The kindest of brothers. A special son.

That's what hurts the most - the thought that his wife, sisters, parents and children have lost someone so kind and so warm. Whenever we spoke, the conversation always turned to his boys, the fun he was having with them, the journey he and Olive were on together. With him, from early on in his career, Olive was his soul-mate and best friend, his wife and his rock.

That is why we must all remember that this ultimate rugby man was - first and foremost - the ultimate family man.

Read more: 'He was destined to a coach Ireland' - Eddie O'Sulivan on the late Anthony Foley

Alan Quinlan is restrained by Anthony Foley during Munster training in 1999. Photo: Brendan Moran
Alan Quinlan is restrained by Anthony Foley during Munster training in 1999. Photo: Brendan Moran

So trying to make sense of what has happened is beyond us. Forty-two is no age for a man to die - and right from Sunday afternoon, when we first heard the tragic news, Anthony's voice has never been away from my head. "Look out for my boys, make sure Olive is okay," he would have said. "Don't feel sorry for me. There are loads of people suffering around the world, every day."

He'd tell us to smile and think of the good times. He was just that type of man, a real decent person who rolled with the punches and never wallowed in any hardship.

I've known him since I was a teenager. Seventeen years old and practically in awe of this superstar schoolboy talent who everyone knew was destined for greatness. Watching from afar, I was struck by his skill and his intelligence, his power and his class.

Lacking his self-belief, my initial feeling of being intimidated in his presence was eased by the way he'd set you at ease. "I'm Anthony," he said, smiling, introducing himself. "Good to meet ya."

And it was always good to meet him. We'd share dressing rooms with Shannon, Munster and Ireland, spend time together on so many trips and tours, holidays in the sun or on the golf course, and I can never remember him being in bad form. Those who didn't know him would give me a look if I ever said that - but all they could see was his game-face when the television cameras zoned in on him.

Away from the field he was always calm. Even in the adversity of the last season, when results, for a spell, were really challenging, he kept his best side out. He never shirked from a challenge, maintaining the same controlled, steady temperament which served him so well right through his playing and coaching career. Even after I criticised his team in public, there wasn't an awkwardness between us.

I sent him a text.

His reply was typical of the man. "Don't worry about it, Quinny," he said.

Anthony was one of those people who didn't do worry. I'd have shared my deepest fears with him and he would always be there for you.

He inspired us, lifted us, was loyal to us and all have great memories of him. And on Sunday, as the disbelief hit, we were on the phone to each other, all his old team mates, sharing stories and tears, trying to come to terms with it all. And failing.

A week earlier I had a great chat with him just before the Leinster-Munster game. And yet when the business of rugby was out of the way, he was straight to the point. "It's Mick Galwey's 50th birthday on Saturday," he said, "make sure you're there."

That was Anthony. He was always the team player. He wanted to be there for Mick and wanted his old teammates around him because he loved the craic and the camaraderie and also because there was a part of him that instinctively felt he should be around his friends off, as well as on, the field. A phone call here, a text there, a chat, a hug.

Read more: 'Our anguish is bottomless' - Anthony Foley's family thank fans for support in these 'darkest days'

That was why it was just so surreal to be in the Sky Sports studios on Sunday afternoon and told this scarcely credible news that my friend had died. That sort of thing shakes you.

I have been through so much with him, good days, bad days. We'd holidayed together. We knew everything about each other. He helped me so much in my career. So to see his picture in the background of a television studio and to be told he has gone, that was something I could not believe.

What would he want us to say or do now? He'd want us to smile and celebrate his life. He'd want us to remember the devilish sense of humour he had, the way he would get on the team bus and would mercilessly slag everyone who sat on it, from the front seat down to the back. Yet whenever he teased us, he did so in an inclusive way. No one was ever bullied. No one talked down to.

He just knew how to have fun.

One day, on an away trip to a game in Ulster with Shannon, he watched as we all got engrossed in The Usual Suspects, a film that had just been released in the cinema, but which, somehow, we'd managed to get an illegal copy of.

So we watched Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Spacey and the plot unfold - an hour or so in - just when he noticed the silence all around him, the quiet fascination with what we were watching on the screen, he perked up. "The man with the limp is Keyser Söze," Anthony said, deliberate in his timing, knowing the reaction he'd get.

That was Axel, he just couldn't help himself. That he had ruined the movie for the whole lot of us was the sort of thing that would have made him laugh.

Read more: 'Why Anthony Foley? Why not a lesser being? Someone without kids' - Former team mate on the 'mind-boggling' tragedy

He was someone I always looked up to.

I was cheeky, wild, noisy, ill-disciplined and anxious around matches. Anthony was calm and helpful. Nothing ever fazed him. He never over-analysed someone or anything. He was very relaxed in his own skin and great fun to be around. He had this ability to turn up on match day and deliver. He had presence in the dressing room and presence on the field, a uniquely talented player with a great rugby brain.

Rugby, though, means absolutely nothing to me today. We have all lost a friend. And I know when people pass away, you invariably try to find positive things to say about them. You dare not mention any negatives. Yet this isn't one of those days when you go through the motions when talking about someone gone.

He was a good man and I will miss his humour, the slagging, the advice. "I feel a bit nervous," I said before my first Munster game. "Just do our job and we will be fine," he replied with typical reassurance. He just had a belief that when we were in the fight, we'd be in a good place.

He was a superb competitor.

And an even better friend.

Most of all he was a friend who always made me smile.

Sunday's news, though, broke all our hearts.

A special smile, a special face

In our hearts, a special place

Memories are a gift to treasure

Ours of you, will last forever

Irish Independent

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