Victor Costello: ‘We loved and hated him – he was so good’

The former Ireland international looks back on his rivalry with the man from Killaloe

It began with a rumour out of St Munchin's College in Limerick. Brendan Foley's son. Shannon had him for their glory years – the four-in-a-row. And then he became part of the greatest Munster side ever.

Ireland benefited enormously, the Munster backrower winning 62 caps from 1995 to 2005 and keeping some serious contenders on the sidelines.

"The last few hours have been very tough for everyone," Victor Costello, Anthony's Foley's long-time rival for the Ireland number eight jersey, told The Irish Times.

“I can only imagine what his family are going through.


"It's devastating. Axel was a rival but he became a friend over the years. Almost 30 years knowing that man and competing against him and then being lucky enough to play beside him as a six for a couple of years.

“Rugby, before professionalism, the most important thing was not the crowds or the write-ups, but it was about the respect of the people around you.

“Axel had that in buckets. And not only the people around him but the respect of his opposition.

Bloody good

“From a


point of view, we loved him and we hated him because of how good he was. Axel embodied what was so bloody good about Munster and about Ireland. When you are playing against that, it was tough but when you were watching it as an Irish fan it was terrific.

“No other man has given his life to Munster rugby as Anthony did to that jersey.

“He was born and bred into that role.”

Costello was three years older and a bigger number eight but Ireland capped Foley a year earlier in January 1995. They also held onto him for an extra Six Nations in 2005.

“He was there before and there after because his commitment to the game never changed.”

It meant Costello’s impressive career was largely played out alongside his provincial and club adversary and Ireland team-mate, particularly the 2002/03 season and onto the World Cup in Australia when Eddie O’Sullivan switched Costello to the blindside flank to utilise their different skill-sets in the same backrow.

“If there was a break in play Anthony would know what to say, particularly with younger guys he was great,” O’Sullivan remembered.

“That knowledge of the game was really hard to coach, that sense of what was important at any one time in the game and the capacity, that leader’s role to convey that to the people around him under pressure.

“It was a no-brainer he would end up in coaching – his head was wired for rugby.”


Tom English

, the BBC journalist from Limerick, concurred: “In terms of game intelligence and leadership he was out on his own.

“Extraordinarily bright rugby player, so so clever, instinctive intelligence about the game. I think he would have gone on to become a great, great rugby coach. It’s so so sad.”

Costello, kindly, took time to add: “I heard about this ball-carrying number eight before I played against him in the early 1990s in the Shannon and St Mary’s rivalry.

“I was in Connacht when we first met I think. He was running over people even then, including myself. That didn’t change for the guts of 12 years. He caused me untold trouble over the years, I preferred playing with him.

“He made his mark across rugby – proud Shannon, Munster and Ireland man.

"Axel is Killaloe.

“Killaloe, Limerick, Shannon, Thomond Park were all part of him. If you ever have someone like that in your team or coaching staff – and I don’t care about results – it is the effort and commitment that he put in that inspires all around him.

“I don’t know if we will ever see that again. This is hurting everyone across the board. His spirit will live on in Munster rugby but this is a very tough day for everyone in the game.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent