Anthony Foley led by example, says his old schools coach

The late Anthony Foley is remembered by a former St Munchin’s rugby coach, Pat Cross, for his “outstanding” performance in the 1992 Munster Schools Senior Cup semi-final against a much-vaunted Christian Brothers College side.

“We got to the Munster Schools Senior Cup final against Pres in 1992. We only had an average team but Anthony Foley, on his own, beat CBC in the semi-final, one of the best CBC teams of all time.”

His former science teacher recalls: “They hadn’t lost a game all year and they had won it the year before. Anthony was outstanding. I’ve been involved in schools rugby for 35 years and I’ve never seen anything like it, from anybody. That was the real Anthony Foley.”

Foley, who captained St Munchin’s to a Munster Schools Junior Cup in 1989, always preferred to lead by example, rather than words. Cross noted his outstanding leadership qualities, long before he led Munster to Heineken Cup glory.

“Everybody knew from a young age what he was capable of. He would say a few words. He wasn’t saying ‘everybody has to put in more tackles’ and then he wouldn’t tackle. Everyone knew he was going to follow through on what he said. He got the best by just saying simple things, a simple message. Anthony would be to the point and very accurate.

“He was quite easy to coach and he was a team leader. I coached him for Munster U20s. Anthony was superb. Himself and David Corkery, they were the two key players when we won the interprovincial titles. A fabulous guy to have, he was a great player but he was modest.”

The sense of unity between Munster and the local community was an integral part of the team’s success in the Heineken Cup and something Foley embodied, given his close association with St Munchin’s.

“Everyone knew him and he was a regular visitor to the school,” said Cross. “One of the key things with the Munster team that did very well was their interaction with the ordinary person, they don’t forget their roots.

“Foley, Clohessy, O’Gara, Keith Wood, they were all rooted firmly in the community but that has been lost a small bit.”

The Heineken Cup-winning captain was an uncompromising figure on the pitch to many, but Cross remembered a young Munchin’s man, off the pitch, who would always stand up for the lesser man, as he went on to recall one of their final memories together.

“He was a big guy but he was a champion for guys who got bullied. He wouldn’t let anyone bully a younger student or a smaller student. He wouldn’t let anybody upset anyone . That was a great thing for him to have.

“He came out to the school soon after being appointed Munster coach and I was in the gym talking to a few of the lads and he came in, grabbed me from behind and gave me this bear hug and said ‘guess who?’, and gave me a friendly shake around. That’s what he would always do. That was the way he was with everyone.

“If he was around for another 10-15 years he would have coached Ireland because he has that determination and will to help others. He lived for rugby.”

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