I was lucky enough to meet Anthony Foley before. One time was when I was still at school and two of us interrupted a fitness session to for a quick picture before small break ended.
The Irish Team were training on one of the pitches in Terenure College. There was Ronan O’Gara, Brian O’Driscoll, Peter Stringer, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Malcolm O’Kelly, Reggie Corrigan, Simon Easterby, John Hayes. We munched our Tayto’s and watched men we’d only previously seen on TV or from a distance in a stand; piling in to each other.
On our way back to classes we spotted someone on another pitch who we had missed previously…
“Is that Anthony Foley?” My friend asked and sure enough it was. There was Axel undergoing some type of punishment, he was coming back from an injury – maybe that’s what you get when you’re injured. He’d run to a mark, drop to the ground and army crawl the rest of the way. He was doing this with a cable attached to him, the cable was dragging a man who Axel pulled along with him on his travels. We watched him go to one end, sit on the ground to catch a breath for a minute, get up and go again. Axel arrived back up our end of the field, sat on the ground – and we decided to give him an extended break period…
“Anthony, Anthony – can we have a photo while your sitting down.” He was breathing heavy, chest heaving, face wet and grass on his cheek, tired, working hard, unphased.
The trainers were commencing to lift us out of it for interrupting but “no problem lads” Anthony said beginning to stand up. “Stay where you are we’ll come down to you.” “You’re grand, you’re grand. I’m nearly finished anyhow.” He didn’t seem to mind the interruption even if his lungs were being pulled from him and it not even lunch time yet, we were only young lads, and back to work he went.
I have a huge interest in all Irish Rugby, and particularly the story of Munster, Anthony Foley was a big part of that, he oozed leadership and calm in the chaos. Rugby looked simple when he played it and when Anthony Foley was on the field against any opposition you always felt things would be alright.
I’ve read many books on Munster, including his own, about the history of the club, its journeys through Europe, beating the All Blacks. There was Foley involvement in all of it. Anthony Foley is Munster. Anthony Foley was Munster even before Paul O’Connell. I’d always get goosebumps when Thomond Park came on TV at nighttime in winter, whether it was Leicester Tigers, Sale Sharks, or Newport Gwent Dragons the history of the stadium and the cause of Munster roared in to the Limerick sky. Foley was a joy to watch, a man who never stopped trying, who always worked hard for his team, his people and his home.
I was glad it was him who was captain the day Munster won their first Heineken Cup in May 2006. It was fitting that he was the first Munster player to hold the trophy. Having been their from the start of the journey, he deserved it most of all. I remember his last rugby game against the Glasgow Warriors in Musgrave Park in 2008, he scored a try and was named man of the match. Donal Lenihan was commentating and awarded him the prize, “man of the decade” he proclaimed.
I imagine Anthony Foley was a good type of person to know. He certainly seems to have been. I would imagine many people’s lives are poorer without him this morning, or richer for having had him but it wouldn’t feel like that at all yet. Funny, brave, shy too, intensely passionate, easy company, loyal, honest, gentleman, husband, friend, son, father, brother, are terms that spring to mind. It’s hard to do work today, there’s not much success in concentrating, something bigger and more important is taking my attention and I didn’t know the man.
I’ve bought two newspapers that have tributes to Anthony but I haven’t read them yet. I won’t read them until tonight, when I can sit and read slowly, rather than scanning through them in a hurry before going back to work, I’ll wait until tonight when I can sit and remember Anthony Foley, Shannon, Munster and Ireland Number 8, somebody’s friend, somebody’s family.