Sport Munster Rugby

Sunday 21 January 2018

Rugby rivalry set aside as Blues mourn Red icon Anthony Foley

Fogarty's brother Denis (R) celebrates with Anthony Foley after the 2006 Heineken Cup win. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile.
Fogarty's brother Denis (R) celebrates with Anthony Foley after the 2006 Heineken Cup win. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile.
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

In the build-up to Leinster's derby matches with Munster, all sorts of words are thrown out to sell the fixture and talk up the coming clash.

However, in weeks like this, the true nature of the relationship comes to the fore. This is no bitter hatred, but a sibling rivalry. Irish rugby is a small, tight-knit family and the provinces are the brothers who occasionally fight.

Irish players, l to r, Peter Clohessy, John Hayes, Kevin Maggs, Denis Hickie, Frank Sheahan, Anthony Foley and Justin Fitzpatrick celebrate Ireland's win over France in the Six Nations Rugby International, France v Ireland, Paris, France. Picture credit Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE*EDI*
Ireland No.8 Anthony Foley practices his hurling skills after squad training. 2003 Rugby World Cup, Irish squad training, Central Coast Grammar School, Terrigal, New South Wales, Australia. Picture credit; Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE *EDI*
Ireland players Reggie Corrigan, right, and Anthony Foley, celebrate at the end of the game.
Ireland's Anthony Foley and head coach Eddie O'Sullivan celebrate victory over Scotland
Munster captain Anthony Foley and coach Alan Gaffney lift the cup. Celtic Cup 2004-2005 Final, Munster v Llanelli Scarlets, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit; Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Munster players, from left, Marcus Horan, Anthony Foley and John Fogarty after the game. Heineken Cup Final, Munster v Biarritz Olympique, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit; Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Munster captain Anthony Foley makes his way out onto the pitch before the start of the game against Glasgow Warriors for the last time on home soil. Magners League, Munster v Glasgow Warriors, Musgrave Park, Cork. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Anthony Foley, Munster, goes over for his try against Glasgow Warriors despite the tackle of Dougie Hall. Magners League, Munster v Glasgow Warriors, Musgrave Park, Cork. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Anthony Foley in action against Italy. Ireland v Italy, Friendly Rugby International, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture Credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland players, from left, Kevin Maggs, Anthony Foley, Keith Gleeson, Simon Easterby, Paul O'Connell and Malcolm O'Kelly celebrate in the dressing room after victory over England. RBS 6 Nations Championship 2003-2004, England v Ireland, Twickenham, England. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Munster players, from left, Peter Clohessy, Mick Galwey, Marcus Horan, Anthony Foley and Alan Quinlan (capped) celebrate at the final whistle victory over Stade Francais. European Rugby Cup Quarter-Final, Munster v Stade Francais, Thomond Park, Limerick. Rugby. Picture credit; Ray Lohan/SPORTSFILE
Munster players from left, Eddie Halvey, Anthony Foley and Keith Wood celebrate their victory over Toulouse. European Rugby Cup semi-final, Toulouse v Munster, Stade Lescure, Bordeaux, France. Picture credit; Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE....*(EDI)*
(L to R) Anthony Foley, Dion O'Cuinneagain, Frank Sheahan, Peter Stringer and Jason Holland pictured at the end of the game against Stade Francais. Stade Francais v Munster, Heineken European Cup semi-final, Stadium Lille Metropole, Lille, France. Rugby. Picture credit; Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE *(EDI)*

Sure, there are fallings-out, but when real life intervenes, as it did so cruelly on Sunday morning, there is no acrimony, only sadness and empathy.

How could there be anything but when so many cross the divide and make their way as an exiled Munsterman in blue or vice versa.

In the Leinster dressing-room, Sean Cronin is a Shannon man as is Trevor Hogan whose role now is to identify and develop talent on the east coast. On the coaching ticket, Leo Cullen, Guy Easterby and John Fogarty all played with and against the late Anthony Foley.

After the two sides crossed swords at the Aviva Stadium less than two weeks ago, the Munster coach ate dinner with Leinster scrum coach Fogarty and head of rugby operations Easterby. The result decided, they ceased hostilities and talked like old friends.

"He was sitting there having a good chat, talking about the Champions Cup, what they were going to do about Racing," Fogarty recalled yesterday. "It is all a bit strange at the moment."

At the province's UCD base, they gathered yesterday to begin preparations for a daunting trip to France to face Montpelier but it was hard for anyone to focus on rugby.

They are professionals and will tune in when needed, but at their media briefing there was no doubting what was front and centre of the mind.

"I can remember the first time I ever saw him; I was a very young kid. Shannon were playing Cork Con in Musgrave Park in the Munster Senior Cup," Tipperary native Fogarty said.

"I was just leaving school. I was in awe of their back-row, of him and how he carried the ball. He was an incredibly smart player. He knew how to win or learned how to win. He was never the quickest but he was always in the right place.

"The first time I would have met him would have been when I trained with Munster. He wouldn't have said a whole lot. It would have been more, 'You're going well,' and that was enough.

"Before you got there, you knew how important he was to Munster and that he was that type of club person. You wanted to go well for him and that type of person that was in Munster.

"You had Mick Galwey, Anthony Foley, Peter Clohessy, John Hayes. These are the people you think of when you think of Munster and how they evolved into the great side that they were. Before I met him, I knew all about him. I was just hoping for his seal of approval."

Fogarty paid tribute to Foley as a player and as a man.

A mourner reads tributes to Anthony Foley on the gates of the stadium. Photo: Press 22
A mourner reads tributes to Anthony Foley on the gates of the stadium. Photo: Press 22

"So many of us in here would have played with and against Anthony, you know Guy, Leo, myself, Girvan and a few of the lads playing still. We've been looking on with a lot of pride," he said.

"There are some great memories. He's remembered as an incredibly smart player, very determined to win. Off the field, he was a good team man and a good guy to have in a changing room. It's very sad, incredibly sad. It is hard to comprehend.

"He and Munster on their route to winning a Heineken Cup, they seemed to evolve all along the way.

"People talk about Anthony being very clever. He seemed to adapt from game-to-game from season-to-season to learn how to win.

"When he lifted the trophy, he had evolved in that team and that team had become him. He's such a huge part of what Munster are and why they won that competition back in 2006.

"His family and Munster rugby should be very proud because I know we are up here. Off the field, him as a club guy, him as a team-mate. I was talking to Leo. He was at a Blackrock Under-20s game against Shannon years ago in Naas and Anthony would have been a full international. He was at the game behind the posts. He didn't need to be there.

"My dad died in 2007 and Anthony showed up that night to support myself and Denis (Fogarty, also a former team-mate of Foley's) and our family.

"That's when it becomes hard to deal with because you know the type of person he was, how good a club man, how good a team man he was as well as how influential he was in Shannon, Munster and Irish rugby.

"It is with great sadness we watch this and our thoughts are with all our friends in Munster rugby and particularly with Olive and the Foley family

"I genuinely hope they find some sort of strength from the outpouring of love and affection that everyone has for Anthony."

Experienced Ireland prop Mike Ross experienced Foley as a player during his early days with Munster and later as a coach when the Munster legend was co-opted into Declan Kidney's backroom team in 2013 and was part of Les Kiss's coaching ticket for the North American tour that year.

He remembers a "hard-nosed, tough leader of men with an amazing brain".

"He kind of epitomised what Munster rugby was all about really," the Fermoy native said.

"If you had to take a player and say, 'That's Munster rugby' you'd point to him. He was never the biggest or the strongest guy, but he was always one of the cleverest.

"He had a great nose for the line and knew how to do the right things, and as a coach he was very blunt and to the point, but managed to get his message across and it was always something you could do and work on. And he brought a real toughness to the teams he coached.

"Coaching was in his blood. He was always going to be coaching. He used to handle the defensive aspects for a bit. He used to put up a quote about warriors and what it required, but that's what he was, a warrior. I think, as a coach, he didn't beat about the bush. He gave you three or four points to work on and that was it. He didn't faff around at all and you appreciate that as a player, that directness. That's all you want really, clear messages, and he was all about that."

"At such a young age, 42, it's nothing really is it? It's not too far from me. I really feel bad for his family especially. I've got a young lad myself and it must be especially hard for them.

"If you had Axel for a dad you'd worship the ground he walked on, and to realise that you're not going to see him again must be absolutely heartbreaking."

The rivalry has been parked. Irish rugby is united in grief.

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