Tyler Bleyendaal paid tribute to the late Anthony Foley for helping to propel him and his teammates to greater heights this year as he accepted the Munster Player of the Year award in Cork.
Kiwi out-half Bleyendaal, who is also nominated for the EPCR Player of the Year, won the award ahead of hooker Niall Scannell and prop John Ryan.
The 2017 Munster ceremony, in association with the Irish Independent, was attended by 250 guests where 11 awards were handed out on the day.
Bleyendaal (26), who previously won a World Rugby Junior Championships as captain of New Zealand, has played 29 times for Munster and scored one try, since his arrival in 2014.
And despite a number of injuries he has fought back to full fitness, and he thanked the likes of Axel Foley for keeping faith in him and helping him to bigger and better things in 2016-17.
“Rassie Erasmus had an impact on everyone since he came in and he helped to release the shackles. But that was along with Jacques Nienaber, Jerry Flannery, Felix Jones and of course Axel, at the start of the season.
“As a team those guys gave us freedom to play without consequence and to play with a bit more instinct. My game came on because the guys gave me a chance, and I was just getting consistent game-time this season.
“I had been out with injury and hadn’t played a lot for 18 months there. But I was able to build into games. That’s what you need. And with the team performing so well, as a ten you can put your stamp on games.”
Munster winger Darren Sweetnam was crowned young player of the year, while flanker Conor Oliver was announced as the academy player of the year.
Barry McGann was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Joy Neville was crowned referee of the year. Siobhan Fleming won the womens’ award, with Cork Con the senior club of the year, and Clonmel the junior club of the year.
Presentation Brothers’ College were the school of the year with Nenagh Ormond presented with the gong for the club youth section of the year and Fethard & District winning the club mini section of the year.
But the ceremony was rounded off with Bleyendaal being honoured, and the former Crusaders star said there is plenty to come from this team in 2017.
“It’s been a crazy season, with a lot of great results but the sadness there too,” said Bleyendaal.
“But with the fans and the way we have responded and performed it has been a special year. I don’t think anyone foreseen us getting this far when we got to pre-season. And we said let’s have a crack and we have developed as a team.
“We have progressed this far and made the semi-final in Europe, which we were disappointed to lose, but on reflection to get there was a decent achievement.
“And now we have the opportunity to compete in a Pro12 semi-final which is a big thing for us too.”
Ulster's three Lions, Rory Best (shoulder), Iain Henderson (elbow) and Jared Payne (ankle) will not feature against Leinster on Saturday but director of rugby Les Kiss has eased fears surrounding their fitness ahead of next month's tour to New Zealand.