Ulster v Munster
Few things go more hand in glove than Tipperary and hurling but ever since the days of the legendary Ryan brothers of Rockwell College fame back in the 1890s, a rich rugby tradition has been maintained in the Premier County.
And since the advent of the Heineken Cup in 1995, Tipp has produced a few more household names, most notably Alan Quinlan and Denis Leamy and several other Irish internationals including Trevor Hogan, Tommy O’Donnell and Donnacha Ryan. O’Donnell, Ryan and Paddy Butler are the best-known Tipp members of the current Munster squad but it may not be a whole lot longer before second-row forward Dave Foley is also spoken of in the same breath.
The 6ft 6in, 17st Clonmel giant (25) has had to ply his trade behind giants of the game like Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll and Donnacha Ryan, while also competing with contemporaries Billy Holland and Ian Nagle. Biding one’s time behind such a array of talent invariably led to frustration and Foley admits he frequently considered moving abroad.
“The options [to leave] were always there. But I’m a proud Munster man and this is where I want to be. I’m starting to get more game time and hopefully starting to push through. I have another year on my contract and there are another two second rows, Billy [Holland] and Nages [Ian Nagle] in the same boat as myself and hopefully we’re all now getting into the top circle.
“It’s great for competition... the depth is phenomenal, never mind the second row, look at the back row and there’s more coming in. You can see why it was narky last week against Connacht because ultimately players are playing for contracts and places.”
Foley’s confidence received a massive boost when he was included in the Emerging Ireland team for a tournament in Tblisi last summer and hopes it proves a turning point in his career.
“That was great,” he enthused, “I played all three games and even if it was very disappointing to lose to South Africa, it was a great trip. The Georgians are a great side and that win was the highlight for me because I felt I played quite well. We were all around the same age, there wouldn’t have been more than a year between any of us and it was great to get the recognition, another notch on my belt.”
And it didn’t harm his morale when last week he was included in the starting line-up against Connacht just a fortnight before the return of the Heineken Cup.
“It was a good team effort,” he says. “We were disappointed at letting in the try at the last minute but we are ready now to face Ulster this week. Any kind of an interpro is going to be narky... you wouldn’t expect anything else from Connacht and Munster. It ultimately comes down to the pack... the backs can stand out there with their hands in their pockets but the forwards have to get stuck in and it’s a good night to test yourself and it’s good to be in Thomond Park and get the result.”
And Ulster at Fortress Ravenhill on Friday? “I’ve played underage up in Ravenhill and been 24th man twice up there so have a fair idea what to expect. You never know what’s going to happen with team selection... we’ve used 40 players in the last three games and of course teams are going to try to catch us because we’re at the top but whatever the result, we move on to the next game.”
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