19 Comments

A Man Of Munster, For Munster

Shock, disbelief, numbness… How can it be possible that Anthony Foley will never again be seen out on the pitch, overseeing the warm-up as we congregate on the terrace before our home games?  The pitch he loved since his boyhood days watching his father Brendan – himself a rugby legend – play for Shannon, Munster and Ireland.

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Two photos from Daryl Feehely’s archives of Anthony Foley in pre-match action from this season.

Those early years hanging around his father’s teams changing rooms imbued him with the Munster values that he brought to his playing and managerial career.  His pride in the jersey, his work ethic and ability to read the game helped him maximize his abilities as he racked up an impressive try scoring record (39) and 188 appearances for Munster (188 on munster rugby site so 202 maybe includes friendlies) plus 62 for Ireland and many more for Shannon including all 48 of their infamous 4 in a row league titles.  It culminated with the wonderful sight of him raising the European Cup aloft in 2006 as Munster captain.  Murray Kinsella analysed his performance in the final and highlighted his “typically robust, selfless, aggressive and gritty performance in the final against Biarritz on that special day at the Millenium Stadium” in this piece in The42.ie

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Taken from the MRSC facebook page

His early steps into management included a secondment to the national team coaching staff with a focus on defence under Declan Kidney.

When he was promoted to head coach of Munster in 2014 they reached the Pro12 final – losing out to Glasgow Warriors – but the team’s failure to get out of the pool stages for that European campaign was a major disappointment, albeit being drawn in a pool with two other semi-finalists from the previous season made it a difficult task.

When the team struggled the following season to qualify for the European Cup you could see the disappointment and strain on his face as he fronted up for the post match interviews.  It certainly was not lack of effort or drive for success on his part as he gave everything in him to the club he loved.  When Rassie Erasmus was brought in this season as the Director of Rugby it was great to see Anthony with a smile on his face, freed up to spend more time hands-on, working with the players.

Now we take some comfort from the tributes and the sharing of the wonderful memories about a man wonderfully described by the Racing 92 coach Laurent Labit as Monsieur Munster as indeed Anthony Foley and Munster rugby are synonymous:  “He is respected in France for his performances for Munster and Ireland. He is part of the history of Munster, he is Monsieur Munster, the same as Serge Blanco in Biarritz or Philippe Sella in Agen. It is a tragedy.” 

Reading through all the tributes, we share their sense of disbelief and bewilderment.  Munster rugby posted a selection on their website giving an example of the breadth of tributes paid to him from around the world in the close knit rugby family.

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A small sample of tweets from his team mates Frankie, Peter, Ronan and his team CJ & Conor

The next home game with a minute’s silence and perhaps a rendition of “There is an Isle” in his honour or some other tribute will be our opportunity to show our solidarity and support for his grief-stricken family, friends, teammates, colleagues and the wider Munster community.  In particular our hearts go out to his wife Olive, sons Tony and Dan, his parents, sisters, friends and relatives. The team will need our support more than ever as they aim to live up to his legacy.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Books of condolence are open throughout the province and in London at the Irish Embassy in London (17 Grosvenor Place SW1X 7HR) which will be open all this week, from 9.30am until 4.30pm daily, until Friday.

There is also an online option: https://www.limerick.ie/council/anthony-foley-book-condolence

Billy Keane in the Independent writes a very personal tribute: ” Munster, Shannon and Ireland were his passion but his wife Olive and their two boys were his life.” 

Alan Quinlan, his backrow warrior wrote: “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.”

Gerry Thornley recalled this quote from last season: “I can’t separate myself from Munster at times because it’s been 21 years nearly now, in and around the squad, since ’94. So it’s a good chunk of my life and I want us to win, and I want us to do well and I want us to be competing at the back end of every competition”

Murray Kinsella in The42.ie wrote: “He combined perfectly the values of the amateur and professional eras, bringing an understanding of the emotive side of rugby, the power of playing for something, for the people who meant most to him, for his friends, and sometimes for the craic”

Donal Lenihan who played with Brendan wrote in the Examiner: “The thing that made Munster great, better than the entire sum of their parts, was that everyone understood where they came from and who they represented.  Anthony was central in establishing those ground rules and no doubt that hard edge was nurtured and developed from his earliest days hanging around Shannon and Munster dressing rooms.”

A personal tribute from Gordon D’Arcy in the Irish Times praised him for his ability to be in the right place at the right time and for his contribution to Munster: “Munster won all those tough matches on the road and in Thomond Park because of their unity. They defended and looked after each other completely. That was a time in rugby when a rare team like them could overcome so much just by standing together and fighting as a team.”

Anthony Foley was asked by Alan English how he would like to be remembered:

alanenglish

Excerpt from the book written with Alan English about Munster’s European journey

Thanks Anthony for setting the bar high for those who follow in your footsteps.

Added Dec 22: an interview with Conor Murray about the impact on him 2 months later from the Guardian

Finally this brings a tear to my eye

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19 comments on “A Man Of Munster, For Munster

  1. Dear Gayl. Well written and hits the right note

  2. from Facebook:
    George:
    Nicely done and classy tribute Gayl Kennedy. He meant a lot to all of us and won’t ever be forgotten.
    I have never seen such a depressed city as Limerick was yesterday! The whole place was crestfallen at the news and it was like a match day with everyone wearing Munster gear.
    James:
    Thank you Gayl. I still can’t get my head around this. I first saw a Foley in action many, many moons ago. Way back then when I was a youngster, some friends called my home in Tipperary Town asking if I wanted to go to Thomond to see Garryowen v Shannon in the Munster Senior Cup Final. Billy Cronin was the Garryowen no. 8 and he trained us as an underage team in Clanwilliam. I jumped at the chance. (In my hurry I forgot to change into my shoes and ended up wearing slippers to Thomond. The nickname ‘slipper’ followed me for years afterwards but sin scéal eile.). It was some game. Garryowen had Chessar, Whelan, Sherry, Ward, Moloney, etc. Shannon had the McLaughlin brothers, Tucker, and Brendan Foley, Anthony’s Dad. All hell broke loose and they knocked lumps out of each other. Brendan Foley was one tough man and years later watching his son Anthony play in Thomond, I recognised where that competitiveness and toughness came from. Sad days these but he left us with many happy memories, a good legacy. Thoughts are with his family now; rugby very much takes second place.

  3. He was a gentle man off the pitch; once into a game he was tough, uncompromising, he never gave up, “stand up and fight” was his way. I can’t believe that the final bell has come so soon for this son of Limerick and Ireland. He will be missed by all of us, but especially by his two boys and his wife. My sympathy to them. He was a prince of rugby.

  4. Nicely put Gayl. He will always be remembered and is deeply embedded in Munsters Rugbys history. We will be talking about Axel for a long time to come.

  5. Gayl, a fitting tribute to a great man. A huge loss for all of Munster

  6. Lovely tribute Gayl. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family & friends at this sad time. I’m still in shock and though he may be gone, his spirit and memories will linger on around rugby fields like Thomond Park. When legends of world rugby are remembered, Anthony Foley’s name will be spoken softly with pride for generations to come Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

  7. Firstly well written Gayl, it is indeed a fitting tribute. I have added this sentence in at the end despite it being in the first paragraph , its a sort of apology for the long winded comment but I felt I needed to write something about how I felt and I knowing your blog I thought it would sit well here.

    I was in the pool with my son on Sunday after work , sneaking in an hour of family time before I switched over to Munster family time 😉 , during the hour or so in the pool I was preoccupied as usual with thinking of the game , mainly due to our location its about how to stream it and hoping to find one that works and is watchable. When I stepped out and checked my phone to see the time I had 8 notifications one of which I could see ” Foley died hotel Paris”. This is all I got a glimpse of. I honestly must say and I have never met the man or spoken to him , shared a pint or anything like that , but it felt like an old school mate or work colleague had just passed. My heart sunk and I got that ” Bad news” feeling very similar to when I have actually been told someone close to me had passed. It was kinda surreal.

    Anthony Foley to me is Munster , He was the brave and faithful and he proved that nothing was impossible in 2006. A piece of Munster and everything it stands for is gone.

    I felt guilt for slating him on too many occasions during his time as coach and the things I had said and thought over that 2 year period , but and like many have stated the fact he remained where he belonged in the Munster coaching set up or just involved in Munster instead of walking away made me respect him so much more than I had already despite my disagreements with some of his coaching methods .I believe deep down that is what everyone wanted being to be honest , for him to remain there in some capacity because its bad enough to imagine life without him involved due to him passing but imagine it if he was still alive , coaching somewhere else …. impossible.

    Once we got in home and I had a little time to reflect my wife asked was I ok and I told her that the one thing that did strike me and as a father of a young family was how sad I felt for him and his family , after 2 long hard sleepless stressful years ( cause you just know he brought that home) . He finally had the weight off his shoulders and by all accounts was thoroughly enjoying his new role , I am sure that was also reflected at home , a light at the end of the tunnel so to speak , Smiles in the Foley house , Father Husband friend back home , The enjoyment when dad comes home from work smiling instead of being quiet and subdued , but in a whimper it was all gone.

    Late last night I got a text from a mate in Limerick ( who has no concept of time different lol) who said the game was 99% going ahead on Saturday, I turned and woke my wife and said don’t even dare plan anything for this Saturday , we will glued to hopefully a good stream to watch what I can only perceive to be one of the toughest games any Munster player will ever have to face , forget your all blacks , your cup finals , your Leinster derby’s this is by far the toughest. Hopefully in front of a packed to capacity Thomond in full voice. I honestly think this Saturday could be the turning point , its our lowest point, for many of the younger generation of Munster fans the videos and highlights they have seen on you tube or the news over the last few days will be a Munster they are not familiar with….. Lets show them and all the world this Saturday what Munster is , what it was and what it should be!!!!! ……….. For Axel

    RIP Anthony Foley

    • Thanks for baring yourself on my blog Luke, your honesty and emotion shines through your words. I felt the coaching ticket was a bit inexperienced and like I wrote in my first blog of the season it was great to have a new sense of hope that the changes made would bring Munster back to where Anthony and all of us wanted it to be, competitive as I included from Gerry Thornley’s piece. I don’t know if the players will be able to channel that emotion on Sat or if it will be too much too soon for them. If the game goes ahead I am sure I will be I want to be there for him, for them, for Munster.

  8. Gayl… this is a beautiful and very moving tribute to one if the greatest Munster people of our generation. A death in the family, our rugby family, only partway explains the very large hole left in our lives since Sunday. Ar dheis De go raibh a hAnam.

    • Thanks so much Imelda, as I wrote above I feel so unqualified to write it but I am glad it struck a chord with folks. We’ll stand shoulder by shoulder on Sat and our solidarity will help us get through this. May he rest in peace as he roars on his team from above.

  9. This has been a very difficult week for everyone. Thanks for remembering Axel in a sensetive and thoughtful manner,Its important to share this when you have the words to express how you feel personally. Also your bringing together of the memories and thoughts of others. So Nice.

    • Thanks Tony, watching Peter O’Mahony at the press conference today gave a glimpse into how the team are feeling, they will need a lot of support on Saturday to get through the 80 minutes and win, lose or draw we need to be the 16th man behind them more than ever before.

  10. Dear Gayl,

    I have commented on many of your blogs before this, but have been unable to say anything on this until now.

    I am one of the very many members of the Munster family who never met Axel – my great loss – but still somehow feel that I knew him. It is Friday morning as I write this. His funeral will be in a few hours time and, unable to be there, I am joining the many Munster fans who are wearing their jerseys today. We will be there in spirit.

    The tributes which have poured in from around the world tell us so much about the man. What can I add? Thanks for the memories, Axel, especially thanks for leading the team to the HEC in 2006 and giving all of us that very memorable day.

    I would like to add, the statement released by his family on Tuesday where they invited us to mourn with them touched me in a way nothing else did. Their generosity of spirit in doing so is amazing.

    May the angels lead you into Paradise, Axel; may you rest in peace and know that the spirit with which you imbued the team of 2006 will never die so long as men take the field in red with the three crowns and stag on their chests.

    Irish by birth, Munster by the grace of God.

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