'Toulon is going to be more of the same. It will be difficult'
Taste of Euro competition leaves second-row determined to maintain his upward progress
It sure was a long wait for Dave Foley, but nearly four years on from his first-team debut against Connacht, he finally gained Heineken Cup recognition with Munster.
It hasn't been an easy journey for the Clonmel native, but since playing a key role in that January win over Gloucester, Foley has been an immovable object in the second-row, missing just one game since when he was rested against Zebre.
After all those years waiting patiently in line, he's not about to stand aside and politely give up his spot now, he says.
"It was a long time coming, but I knew that I had quite a bit of development to do physically to be ready," says Foley.
"The quality of second-rows in Munster is and has been incredible. A lot of them are world class. At one stage I think there was four Irish internationals ahead of me in the pecking order, with Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan, Donnacha Ryan and Mick O'Driscoll there.
"It's tough being stuck behind them, waiting for your chance. Then there was myself, Billy Holland and Ian Nagle and we had our own battle going on. At best I was fifth choice. It was difficult, but I had learning and development to do.
"But now I'm feeling strong and I feel prepared for these games. I have done my time and learned from those guys so I'm ready now I think," he says.
His increased game time of late has certainly heightened the Munster supporters' views of him. No one would be too surprised if he starts in Toulon ahead Ryan or O'Callaghan, such has been the intensity and quality of his play.
But he says that getting a consistent run in the team has always benefited him – at all levels – while learning from the best hasn't hindered him either!
"Yeah, I've played every game bar Zebre since January and it's been great. I definitely feel better when I'm playing every week and not taking rests. My match fitness builds up nicely that way too, so I want to be involved all the time.
"If there is a chance that I might be involved against Toulon, I'd hope to be involved every week until then. These next games will get me 100pc match-fit," he says.
While the likes of O'Connell, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo were enjoying the high life with the Lions, and a handful of his Munster colleagues spent the summer on tour with Ireland in North America, Foley joined Ian Keatley and Ian Nagle on the Emerging Ireland trip to Georgia.
He didn't quite make as many headlines as his Munster mates, but Foley emerged from that three-game series with a renewed sense of confidence in his abilities – and a hunger for more action in green.
"It was an interesting trip. Playing against Georgia in the first game was really enjoyable. They had their first team out against us so it was a fantastic experience for me.
"I was given the responsibility of running the line-out for the three games and had to do my homework and come up with a calling system. That was great experience for me, I felt really good after it. When I finished that tour all I wanted was to come back home to Munster and really kick on, because at times it was a little frustrating for me here.
"I'm an incredibly proud Munster man and also a very proud Irish man. Because I'm now playing for Munster I also have aspirations to play for Ireland, so yeah, I want to play for Ireland. It would be great for me."
Foley was forced to sit out training early this week as he recovered from Saturday's bruising encounter with Toulouse. But bumps and bruises are easily forgotten with a Heineken Cup semi-final with Toulon at the Stade Velodrome just over two weeks away.
"I was still a little bit sore after Saturday, but it was a physical game. A good few of the boys needed to take a little time to get themselves right for this week. But it's nice to be able to look forward and have a game like Toulon to plan for in the next few weeks.
"Talking to some of the lads that played in last year's semi, Clermont were incredibly big and physical, but those Toulouse forwards were probably some of the biggest men that I've ever played against. Toulon is going to be more of the same; it will be incredibly difficult, especially going out there to play them.
"They have world-class players right through their squad, never mind one to 15. They have guys on their bench that would make many international teams. It's going to be incredibly difficult out there, we have quite a bit of work to do to get ready before we face them," the 25-year-old lock adds.
If he does play against the Heineken Cup champions, Foley is likely to be partnered by Paul O'Connell in the second-row once again. Foley picked up on his influence as soon as he joined the squad, but he says rumours that's he's ready to fill his shoes are wide of the mark – despite using a pair of the Lions skipper's emblazoned boots for training.
"That was a bit of a laugh, Paulie just gave me the boots. Myself and him are pretty similar in size – I think I might be a half-size smaller – but they didn't fit him right. Unfortunately, I'm not sponsored by adidas – he is – and he is lucky enough to get free boots when he needs them, so I was delighted to get them.
"But he is a huge influence. I remember we went to Spain on a training camp not long after I joined the senior squad and I roomed with him. It was just after Ireland beat the Springboks and he told me how he had learned Afrikaans to get in on their line-out calls. He was willing to sit down and learn the numbers, but that's what you have got to do.
"I'd have big boots to fill there, so I just want to play my own game. He is an incredible inspiration and a great man to look up to and to play beside. But I just want to make my own name and tip away myself."