Emotional Leo Cullen pays tribute to 'amazing' Anthony Foley: 'He's in my thoughts a lot'

"He passed away at 42 and I’m currently 43 so I thought a lot about Axel when I was 42"
Emotional Leo Cullen pays tribute to 'amazing' Anthony Foley: 'He's in my thoughts a lot'

Leo Cullen and Anthony Foley in 2004. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

An emotional Leo Cullen has paid tribute to Anthony Foley ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Munster legend’s passing.

Cullen reflected yesterday on that dreadful day in October of 2016, how he was in Leinster’s UCD base and preparing to watch Munster’s game against Racing from Paris when the TV bulletins broke the news.

He was not alone in processing all this with a sense of disbelief at the time and the Leinster head coach had to pause and collect himself here as an otherwise routine pre-match press conference was diverted to parse some thoughts on his old teammate. 

The pair were roommates at times, both captained and coached their provinces to European success, and Cullen said five years ago that he was still only 14 years of age when he first noticed the up-and-coming Shannon back row.

“I read it this week about it being the fifth anniversary. It’s hard to believe, really… You’ve got me pretty emotional here now, cos I wasn’t expecting this one. He was the No.8 for the Irish Schools in ’92 whereas I was the No.8 for the Irish Schools in ’96. They had gone to New Zealand on their tour and we went to Australia four years later.

“Yeah, lots of similar things that we did in terms of career. He passed away at 42 and I’m currently 43 so I thought a lot about Axel when I was 42, to understand all the pressures and the rest of it that he came under. He’s in my thoughts a lot, Axel. I’m sure it will be a sad day for his family.

“I’m sure every day is but he was also an amazing character so hopefully everyone celebrates all the good things about Axel as well, and what he did for the game and for the country as well, and especially Munster. He definitely had an effect on a lot of us. I admired him.”

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