Munster captain Peter O’Mahony has insisted Saturday’s emotionally-charged European tie with Glasgow Warriors is not about anything else but Anthony Foley’s grieving family.
O’Mahony and his team-mates will somehow summon up the courage to fulfil their Champions Cup pool fixture at Thomond Park, 24 hours after Foley, their friend, mentor and head coach, is buried in his native Killaloe, having died suddenly from a heart- related condition last Sunday in Paris.
The Munster squad and management will attend Friday’s funeral and pushing aside his own grief at the tragic loss of the 42-year-old, O’Mahony said Foley’s wife Olive and their two young sons Tony and Dan were the priority, not Munster Rugby.
“I think the main thing is we’re there for Olive and the kids and that’s been our focus outside of being in these four walls,” O’Mahony said yesterday, after training in Limerick.
“That’s all we’re thinking about outside of maybe the 60 or 70 minutes of training that we did today and yesterday. We’ve just got to be there for them now. It’s not about us. It’s not about anything else. It’s about minding them now over the next few weeks.”
O’Mahony struggled to speak at times during a press conference that was clearly an ordeal for the 27-year-old Ireland back-rower. He said the Munster players and coaches had found some solace in each other’s company since Foley’s death on the night before what should have been their opening pool fixture in the French capital against Racing 92. The game was postponed at Munster’s request with a new date yet to be scheduled, Champions Cup organisers EPCR yesterday confirming that this Saturday’s home fixture with Glasgow was definitely going ahead, although O’Mahony admitted that playing in such circumstances seemed “pretty trivial”.
“We’ve been around each other, which I found has made it easier. Being away from the squad and with the lads around here, that would make it harder. I think the more time we spend together, the better.
“We just try and make it as normal as possible, as much as you can. At the end of the day, it’s all pretty trivial. When you’re thrown into a scenario like this, it puts a lot of things in perspective for everyone.”
O’Mahony described how he idolised Foley the player as he grew up watching his province conquer Europe, his future coach captaining Munster to Heineken Cup glory in 2006.
“I was lucky, I grew up following him around the place, even though he didn’t know it. And then to be allowed to come in and rub shoulders with guys like him. He’d just finished up playing when I came into the academy and into my development contract but for him to be around and to be allowed to talk to him and be in his presence, it was a dream come true at the time and it stayed that way up until last weekend.
“I learned a huge amount from him. I couldn’t pick just one thing, and I couldn’t just pick the rugby side of stuff. I learned life skills from him, family skills from him. Seeing him bringing Tony and Dan around the dressing room after games, I used to say that I’d love to bring my kids around...”
And with that O’Mahony’s voiced trailed off, although no further words were necessary.
Earlier the Munster captain had recalled his first game playing for coach Foley, an under-20 game at Thomond Park.
“We won it 3-0 and that suited Axel as good as if we’d won it by 60 or 70 points. He was a man who wanted any Munster jersey to win at any cost.
“I’m not going to do him justice here, with all the words I could say. Personally he meant a huge amount. He’s been there, I haven’t been involved or supported a Munster team that he wasn’t involved in. He’s been there since the start.
“Every team I’ve seen or been involved in, he’s played or coached. The amount he’s given the club, you can’t put into words.
“I was lucky he was in my position as well, the knowledge he could give to me. At times it was frustrating because he was such a good footballer, he found it hard at times to understand we couldn’t’ see what he could.
“That was probably what frustrated him most, he was blessed with such a rugby brain and mind.
“The amount we’ve lost now that he’s gone is incredible: the rugby knowledge, the brain; the man, the coach and the friend, the brother, it’s mad.”
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