Saturday 24 February 2018

Victor Costello: There will never be another Axel - a player so committed that nothing else mattered

Anthony Foley pictured with Brian O’Driscoll ahead of the 2007/08 Heineken Cup. Photo: Sportsfile
Anthony Foley pictured with Brian O’Driscoll ahead of the 2007/08 Heineken Cup. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

It has been a very difficult week for all involved in the four provinces, and a lot has been said about Anthony Foley. His untimely death has shocked the rugby community to the core and the overwhelming sense of loss over the past few days is a testament to the years of service he put in for club, province and country.

Anthony Foley battled Leinster over the years for both Shannon and Munster. In the mid-90s Shannon had a stranglehold on the AIL and dominated for years as the new Heineken Cup took centre stage.

The success of Shannon took a while to filter into the Munster squad but in 1996 when Munster hammered the then English league champions Wasps in Thomond Park the Munster journey began.

The same names in Munster were to the fore for years with Peter Clohessy , Mick Galwey, Eddie Halvey and Anthony Foley being the youngest.

The inter-club rivalry in Limerick and Cork produced a great friendship and tradition in the Munster team that was and is still the ethos of the team today. These values produced a club that was almost unbeatable for the guts of a decade in European rugby.

When Munster finally won the Heineken cup in 2006 they had to tame their greatest rivals Leinster at Lansdowne Road on the way.

Anthony Foley epitomised this passion, tradition and pride and with an immense work ethic. When leading his Munster team on to the pitch that day there was a fear in his eyes.

There was a drive not to fail, a fear of letting his team-mates down but more importantly a fear of letting down the Munster supporters - the 16 man who are all so openly grieving today.

There will always be a professional sporting divide between Munster and Leinster - the city boys versus the country boys.

In the years of the Munster dominance, Leinster saw them as a yardstick of where we wanted to be, and sporadic victories against them led to consistency which in turn led to a fundamental belief that we could dominate Europe ourselves.

Playing against Anthony Foley was extremely difficult.

He had an immense power and dogged work ethic that was tough to stop at any level.

While most players have interests outside rugby, Axel was always different.

While he loved Manchester United and golf, rugby was his main passion.

When up against him he had a relentless drive that any combination of Leinster back-row had to work hard to contain.

In modern day professional sport, rugby players move about clubs and can hang their allegiances to whoever pays the most.

When people speak about the fact that there will never be another Anthony Foley, this is what they mean.

There will never be a player so committed that absolutely nothing else mattered. This was obvious in his play and now in his epitaph.

Recently Leinster have found consistency: four tries against Castres being the standard ambition for a home opener.

Montpellier did not make it easy for Northampton and will have pride in their home performance this weekend.

Developing

With Johnny Sexton likely to be out, Joey Carbery will be expected to maintain his current form. Like Sexton, Carbery is not afraid of the physical element and is developing more and more as the games get tougher.

The news that Tadhg Furlong is out will put a temporary dent in the Wexford man's dominance in the tighthead position but Sean O'Brien being available will add to Leinster's bulk and power up front, which will be needed.

Over the last few games the demeanour of the Leinster group has been uplifted. Leo Cullen is more relaxed and now fans and media alike can see the true person and player that led this province to such success.

Irish rugby young and old has been shaken this week by losing a brother in arms. All four provinces will channel the pain and emotion in the direction of the relevant opposition, and I am certain that there will also be a little help from above.

Irish Independent

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