Knowledge, passion and a huge presence
Anthony Foley exhorts the Munster forwards during training. photographs: inpho
Anthony Foley being tackled by Lawrence Dallaglio during the Grand Slam match of 2003. photographs: inpho
INTERVIEW: ANTHONY FOLEYThere have been a few factors in the recent resurgence of the Irish team, and the addition of Anthony Foley to the coaching staff has been one of them. Not alone has it freed up Les Kiss to concentrate on attack, it’s brought Foley’s own presence to the mix. And he has a presence.
He brings knowledge and passion, but he has a presence simply because of his achievements in the Irish professional era; 202 caps for Munster, two Heineken Cups and 62 caps for his country as one of the shrewdest forwards who ever played the game.
“Axel brings a calmness,” says one of the Munster and Irish contingent, “and he’s been there and done it.” Thus, while he may not be the loudest or even the most frequent voice in the mix, when he speaks, players listen.
Steeped in the game, not only does he have the Foley bloodline through his father Brendan, but he is a continuation of that winning Shannon/Munster mentality which was the heartbeat of the rejuvenation in Irish rugby. He’s always talked sense and so, somehow, it was always destined that he would go into coaching.
He first caught the coaching bug while still playing when asked to help Ian Sherwin at Shannon in 2007 and enjoyed it immensely. Coaching gives him the same buzz; keeps him immersed in the game and in long-time friendships, even if the long hours, tough decisions and arguments ensure it hasn’t always been rosy.
It’s hard to switch off. “You can bring your work home. People say you shouldn’t, but you do. It can eat you up.” It’s important to have hobbies, such as playing golf, his silly Manchester United obsession and hoping Alex Ferguson signs Gareth Bale, spending time with Olive and playing with their sons Tony (seven) and Dan (four), whether it be impromptu indoor football in the sitting room or taking them to rugby, swimming or hurling.
“They play anything. That’s the way I was brought up. Play with your parish and your friends.”
He might review games up to 10 times now, and the wins and defeats linger longer, but the bottom line remains the same. “Everybody is reliant on the results. When you put a gun to a coach’s head, it’s all about winning and losing,” he says .
Now in his fifth season of a decidedly varied coaching career, one of the losses that hurt the most, surprisingly, was a British Irish Cup final defeat away to Cornish Pirates in his second campaign, and first as head coach, with the Munster As in 2010 after previously winning 11 from 11 that season.
“It was the depths of low,” he recalls in a quiet lobby of Carton House on Thursday evening, after he had driven up from Killaloe after the squad’s down day. “It was hard in the changing room after the game because they’d given so much and gone to hard places and won games.”