Munster right to be so proud of 'Axel' Foley, says John Fogarty

Joint top of the Guinness Pro12 and a bonus-point win in the bag from the first Champions Cup weekend secured: these are the weeks when dressing rooms should tingle with excitement and intent.

Rewind eight days and the walls in Leinster’s HQ in UCD were still reverberating to a succession of cacophonous, joyful roars as players and coaches continued to feed off the thrill of their win against Munster two days before.

There were no cheers yesterday as they convened for the first time since the defeat of Castres on Saturday, just an eerie quiet as a club and it’s people wrestled with the finality of the weekend’s dreadful news from Paris.

Anthony Foley meant different things to different men in blue. To most, he was simply a rival’s talisman and an opponent to be admired. Others had known him as a teammate with Ireland too, and and some more besides treasured him as a friend.

For John Fogarty, it was all three.

Foley was one of the first people around to the house to comfort, John, his brother Denis Jnr and the rest of the Fogarty family after their father Denis Snr passed away back in 2007, and it was a kindness recalled fondly yesterday.

“That’s when it becomes hard to deal with because you know the type of person he was,” said the Leinster assistant coach. “How good a club man, how good a team man he was as well as how influential he was in Shannon, Munster, and Irish rugby.”

Fogarty has found it as difficult as everyone else to process Foley’s loss.

He spent two years in the same Munster dressing room before moving on to Connacht and then Leinster and it is only 10 days since the pair and Leinster team manager Guy Easterby shared dinner after the Leinster-Munster tie at the Aviva.

Foley had chatted away about the Racing 92 game that night and that must have added to the shock and sense of surreal when Stephen Keogh — another Munster man who served Leinster in his time — texted with the news on Sunday. “It is difficult to understand such a huge loss. You watch the tributes with great pride. So many of us in here would have played with and against Anthony. You know Guy, Leo (Cullen), myself, Girvan (Dempsey) and a few of the lads playing still.

“We’ve been looking on with a lot of pride. There are some great memories. He’s remembered as an incredibly smart player, very determined to win. Off the field, he was a good team man and a good guy to have in a changing room.

“People talk about Anthony being very clever. He seemed to adapt from game-to-game from season-to-season to learn how to win. When he lifted the (European Cup) trophy, he had evolved in that team and that team had become him.

“He’s such a huge part of what Munster are and why they won that competition back in 2006. His family and Munster rugby should be very proud because I know we are up here.”

It was, all told, a beautifully eloquent tribute yesterday from Fogarty.

He spoke too about the first time he saw Foley play — Shannon against Cork Con in a Munster Cup game in Musgrave Park — and the indelible impression the ball-carrying No.8 left on the young kid from Tipp.

When Fogarty made it beyond the threshold of the Munster dressing room door some years later, Foley was already among those larger-than-life leaders everyone wanted and needed to impress as a rookie.

“He wouldn’t have said a whole lot. It would have been more, ‘you’re going well,’ and that was enough. Before you got there, you knew how important he was to Munster and that he was that type of club person.”

Mike Ross spoke of the warrior ethos which Foley espoused as a coach when he was involved with Ireland and Leo Cullen recounted how ‘Axel’ had travelled all the way up to Naas one year to watch Shannon U20s face Blackrock.

Amidst all the shock and the grief there is also the understanding that, trifling though it seems right now, there is a need to continue on continuing on, and to prepare for a taxing trip to Montpellier at the weekend.

“We’ll do our jobs, we’ll be focused and do our jobs in the same way that he would have done his,” said Fogarty. “That has to be done with this. It’s just going to be a little bit different, you know?”

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