Munster’s head coach passed away back in October, days before their Champions Cup clash with Racing 92 in Paris.
Since Foley’s death, the side have recorded six consecutive victories as they prepare to welcome Leicester to Thomond Park tomorrow.
The meeting is a rematch of when the clubs met this time last year as part of a European double header and on that occasion Leicester claimed back-to-back wins. However, having seen Munster come through emotional and difficult circumstances in recent months, Cockerill is well aware tomorrow’s match will be nothing like his side’s 31-19 victory at Thomond Park 12 months ago.
Instead he believes his men now face a province who have rediscovered what it means to be Munster following Foley’s death, making last year’s triumph a thing of the past.
“The tragic circumstances around Anthony Foley have galvanised them. They have regathered their mojo around what they are about,” said Cockerill.
“I think Anthony Foley’s memory will sit large with the Munster community for a very long time and I think that is part of it.
“The province seems to have fallen in love with Munster again, because this time last year it was a very different atmosphere around it. I think they have found themselves.
“I think they have re-found the Munster passion and pride that you would associate with them, probably through tragic circumstances.
“They are the same players but they are a very different team from last year I think.
“They have got that confidence, that little bit of edge about them.
“They look like a proper Munster team again don’t they? They have proven that in the league, they are winning games. Even when they are very close, they are finding ways to win.
“They are selling out Thomond Park, which wasn’t the case this time last year.
“There is that buzz again and we will treat them with a huge amount of respect.
“Limerick is a great place to go. It is a great rugby city, it’s a great stadium that’s world renowned. If you talk about Welford Road or Thomond Park, they are special places to play and we are going to go and enjoy that atmosphere.
“We know it will be packed to the rafters and it is going to be partisan, but we are looking forward to that.
“I think that is something to be enjoyed — not withstanding that we need to play really well to keep them as quiet as we can.”
Cockerill has been speaking to his squad all week about Munster’s resurgence in an attempt to drum into them how different a proposition this will be to 12 months ago. The players are aware of the task as they head to Limerick but, for the likes of fly-half Freddie Burns, many have been wary since watching Munster beat Glasgow back in October.
That victory came the day after Foley’s funeral and Burns admits he was glued to the television watching the emotional scenes at Thomond Park. In many ways it has also given a clear indication to Leicester of what to expect come kick-off tomorrow.
“I have massive respect for what they have dealt with over the last couple of months,” said Burns.
“I have always said that game against Glasgow is probably one of the best games of rugby I have watched.
“I watched it with my older brother. It was one of those games you felt like you had to watch, just because of everything that had happened. They are the games that show what makes rugby so special.
“I obviously played U20s against guys like Simon Zebo, so to see those boys go through what they had and come out the other side to perform like that was a spectacle.
“You had all the emotion in it with where they were and credit to them. So it is going to be a really tough effort but we have got to go there full of confidence and have no fear. We have huge respect for them as a club and team, and it is going to be a tough day at the office on Saturday. But it is something we have got to enjoy. We have won five on the bounce as a squad, so we are in a confident space to put in a good performance.”