Foley finally finding his feet at the coalface

Dave Foley understands all about the years of patience and hard work that go into becoming an overnight success.

Foley finally finding his feet at the coalface

Like Donnacha Ryan before him, the Munster lock knows what it means to bide his time as second row stalwarts continue to do the business in the red jersey while he waits for the call.

And when that call eventually comes, Foley has to be ready to grab the opportunity with both hands.

Ryan did that before him, transferring years in the periphery into a regular place in the Munster second row, parlaying that into a successful Ireland career as well as his province’s coveted player of the season award in 2012.

So it is ironic that Ryan’s current, season-long injury woes have allowed Foley to make the breakthrough, playing more games this season than in the previous four combined since his senior debut in April 2010.

Not so much the new kid on the block and more a case of been around it a couple of times.

Ryan’s absence has seen fellow Tipperary man Foley’s cause promoted by Rob Penney, starting 15 games, including a Heineken Cup debut in the win at Gloucester in January and coming off the bench a further four times.

His starts have produced significant contributions, not least in that first European game at Kingsholm.

“It has been a good season,” Foley admitted with some modesty. “I’m turning 26 next week so I’m not as young as people think. I’ve been around quite a while and I’m trying to break into the side for a long time but I’ve been learning and I’ve been willing to wait and I’ve just wanted to take my chance and push forward. I suppose my physical development was a huge thing. That was probably, ultimately, my big one.

“When you’re breaking in at the start you’re only getting a game here, a game there. You’re trying to make a big impact on the game and when you’re pushing forward to make big impacts you start making mistakes.

“There was a huge amount of mistakes in my game and no doubt that’s why I wasn’t getting another shot because I was pushing too hard and wanting more out of myself whereas I’m a lot more relaxed this year. I know I’ve been playing decently and I’m just taking it one game after the other.”

The turning point for Foley, when the lightbulb came on and he felt at ease, not just with his physique but also his sense of belonging in this Munster squad, came at the start of this season.

“I think a lot of people say the Ulster game up there (in January) was probably where I turned my season around, but it arrived when I came in after pre-season, I had played the first two games and then went over to (Zebre) and came off the bench. That was, in my head, where I made the big step forward.”

Foley had come into the season with his confidence enhanced after leading the lineout on lastsummer’s Emerging Ireland tour to Georgia.

“I was relaxed over there when I went playing that. I had a fair idea I was starting because I was given the lineouts to look after.

“I didn’t have the pressure of not starting. I could just relax into my game and play my game how it was and played quite well.”

Foley is grateful for the opportunity handed to him this season by Penney, who looks set to name him alongside Paul O’Connell in the Munster second row for tomorrow night’s RaboDirect Pro12 semi-final at Glasgow.

“We have had a few tough chats, I suppose, up to this year, but he has been a huge influence on my career. He was ultimately the one who gave me the nod this season. He has been really important to my career.”

With places up for grabs on Ireland’s two-Test tour to Argentina as well as another Emerging Ireland tour, this time to Romania for the IRB Nations Cup, Foley has plenty to aim for at the business end of the season but recognises last weekend’s team effort against Ulster does no-one in the Munster set-up any favours.

“I am just looking forward. I have ambitions to play with Ireland. That might never happen. It might happen in a year, maybe sooner, you never know, so I think it is really important that I look forward, look at myself and just push myself as hard as I can. I thought my breakdown was quite poor at the weekend. That is something I pride myself on, so this week, that is my focus.

“As I said I don’t have a long-term goal on anything, I am just looking from week to week. That was something I was very disappointed with, so that is something I will be looking forward to improving this week.”

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