From captain to commander for Munster stalwart Foley

Saying ‘yes’ was the easy part, but having fulfilled his ambition to be Munster head coach Anthony Foley will lean on the coaches he faithfully served as he prepares to take charge of his beloved province next season.

Munster’s 2006 Heineken Cup-winning captain and former Ireland No. 8 yesterday completed his transition from player to boss in his home province when he was installed as the next head coach, succeeding the outgoing Rob Penney at the end of this season on a two-year contract with the option of a third year.

The announcement came as current head coach Penney led preparations for Sunday’s RaboDirect Pro12 visit to Ospreys with the assistance of forwards and defence coach Foley. Yet, while it was very much business as usual at the University of Limerick, it was Foley who took centre stage, receiving the congratulations of the players before training and then occupying the hot-seat to face the media to explain his feelings about the appointment.

“Joy, I suppose. It is a fulfilment,” Foley said before focusing on the task ahead. “It was something you wanted and now that it is there, it starts in July and I have to do the job to the best of my ability.

“It will be the same philosophy I had as a player. What is my job? How can I get it done? Who do I need to get it done with? Who can help me? Making sure that we are doing it at a level we can win games at.”

Foley’s coaching education began before he retired as a player in the summer of 2008 and he has formerly served under Munster head coaches Tony McGahan and then Penney, first as A team coach in the British & Irish Cup and then as defence and forwards coach.

There have also been spells on secondment to the national set-up, with the Wolfhounds, whom he head coached to victory over the England Saxons in Gloucester last month, and as temporary Ireland forwards coach under old boss Declan Kidney last season as cover for the incapacitated Gert Smal.

He needed no counsel when offered the job but now he has accepted Munster’s offer it will be to McGahan, now Melbourne Rebels head coach, and Kidney amongst others that Foley will turn for advice.

“I think, taking the job, you ask yourself that question and you answer it again in five seconds,” he said. “In saying that, am I going to talk to Declan Kidney in the next couple of weeks? Yes I will.

“Have I already spoken to Tony McGahan? Yes, I have. Will I get in touch with and chat with Alan Gaffney? Yes, I will. I believe they have been through all of this before. They know it, they understand it. Everybody has their own perspective of it. They still have a love for Munster and they still want to give back. When Munster play, whether they are watching it or catching up on Twitter, they have a love for this place still. It’s just a matter of feeding off of that as well.”

His predecessors in the role will, you can be sure, mention the burden of expectation that comes with the top job in Munster. Foley has experienced pressure in all of his former playing and coaching guises and is expecting more when he takes charge next season, but he will embrace it.

“Isn’t that where you are judged? You can’t shy away from it. You have to stand up to it. I think we have shown over a period of time in Munster that when it is put to us we stand up, so hopefully I show that in the way I coach as well.”

He will look for his assistants to follow suit and will sit down with chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald next month to start putting his backroom staff for next season together, with current skills coach Ian Costello in the frame for the backs coach role being vacated by Simon Mannix at the end of the season.

“There’s a lot of guys out there and there’s a lot of guys under contract,” Foley said. “There’s a lot of guys I would have played with that I’d like to get back involved but some of them will have different interests and different priorities in their lives.

“So it’s important that we go and do a thorough research of the candidates and positions that need filling.”

The roles may not be defined yet but Foley knows the type of persons he will be seeking.

“I think when you’re in here you need to be able to stand on your own two feet,” he said, “you can’t be bullied. You need to be able to fight back, to get your point across. You need to hold people to task. You need accountability. Once you have that, you need knowledge and to be able to get that across.”

People, in other words, built in his own image.

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