One of the more forgettable years of the Munster legend’s career as a disastrous tour of New Zealand, coupled with a poor run of form, culminated in him being omitted from the squad to play Keith Wood’s Harlequins in round one of the Heineken Cup.
Former Sunday’s Well flanker Greg Tuohy remembers that game, if only because he joined Alan Quinlan and Eddie Halvey in the backrow at Foley’s expense. The 48-40 loss to the then English giants, is a game he will always “cherish”.
“It was incredible. I couldn’t believe I got picked ahead of him.” Tuohy recalls. “It was my fifteen minutes of fame. He was having a poor season so I got in ahead of him. He got back in the next week against Cardiff, back to the old Anthony. He was just too good. Once he got back in the team, he was brilliant and he never got dropped again.”
Foley, then 23, was already becoming a known figure in the Irish set-up at that stage with 9 caps and was one of the first names on a Munster team sheet. Tuohy, then 24, had only made one previous appearance for Munster. Did Axel’s team mates ever stop reminding him of ‘that one game’ against Harlequins?
“Declan Kidney always used to slag him over getting dropped,” Tuohy laughs. “I met Kidney and Axel years later after the Heineken Cup win. Axel had achieved everything in rugby and there was Kidney slagging him over one game!”
For many, playing in a 11-try Heineken Cup thriller would be a lasting memory, but the score doesn’t tell how special the game was for Tuohy.
That day, he played the likes of Keith Wood, Thierry Lacroix, Will Carling and Jason Leonard. The game also marked Ronan O’Gara’s first appearance for Munster, as well as the omission of a future Heineken Cup winning captain , as Tuohy reflects: “I remember right at the start of the game, Gallimh gave Woody a box. He hit him so hard that Wood had to go off. He lasted only 5 minutes.
“Myself and Quinlan got the same part-time contract in 1997, Foley was on full-time at that stage. That Harlequins game was the first game for ROG and Quinny. It was fantastic to be involved with those guys. Obviously I didn’t go on but it’s something you can never take away from me.”
Tuohy admitted that game sprung to mind last Sunday after hearing about the tragic passing of his former team mate, who he knew since his school days. “It was surreal. I hadn’t seem him in years. Listening to all the eulogies, it all came back to me over the week and then I went back through all the various other teams we played for before together. He was an astute player, always in the right place at the right time.”