ANTHONY Foley’s amazing Heineken Cup record is about to be matched as Munster face into a quarter final clash with Ospreys, but the ex-skipper will be first to congratulate John Hayes as the powerful prop forward wins a tournament-equalling 86th cap.
Foley jokingly suggested that Hayes had an easier run to his achievement, saying: “We always tell him we believe he didn’t have much opposition; it was harder for us guys in the back row to get into the side because of such intense competition!”
On a serious note, he described the big prop as: “A genuinely magnificent rugby player, who fully deserves any plaudits that come his way.”
As part of the current coaching team, Foley can report first hand on the spades of work the 35-year-old Hayes goes through to keep ahead of the young posse of competitors.
“Overall,” said Foley “I think the guy has been brilliant; to have converted from a second row and to achieve what he has achieved is absolutely magnificent.
“He has gone from strength to strength, showing perseverance and total dedication; he had to stick in there amidst disappointment and criticism earlier in his career, but he got the rewards in the last few seasons — two Heineken Cup medals, Triple Crowns and now a Grand Slam — he deserved that, to be honest.”
Foley acknowledges that Hayes isn’t the most talkative of guys, preferring the company of family and his off-rugby work on the family farm, but he described the prop as “one of the really great guys in rugby”.
Foley said: “He’s a really nice guy — I don’t have any problem sharing the record with him. Ironically, he probably cares less about individual records than I do.
“Looking back on my career, I’m just happy to have been involved in so many big games for Munster; I’m sure John would feel the same, but by any stretch of the imagination it is a huge achievement, Munster having played 100 games in Europe and John has been involved in so many of those days,” said Foley.
Foley has no major regret, knowing that he knocked 17 years out of the game as a player. “I’d have to say I didn’t do too badly, given the level of attrition that a back row forward has to go through in the modern game. When I retired, it was a good time to call it quits,” he said.
To make it easier, Foley is content to see Munster in the happy position of having several top class back row forwards at their disposal.
Although current inspirational figures such as Alan Quinlan and David Wallace are creeping towards the retirement mark alongside or slightly behind Hayes, Foley believes the current standard of Munster’s back row play is second to none.
“There is huge potential in that back row; you’ve got guys like Wally (Wallace), Quinny (Quinlan), Leams (Denis Leamy), Niall (Ronan), Nick Williams and Donncha Ryan. These days, we have a pretty competitive patch for places in the back row.”
As usual, Foley is nervous as Munster head into an amazing 100th Heineken Cup adventure, remarking: “If I wasn’t nervous, I wouldn’t be human.”
But while the pessimists point out ruefully that Munster lost to Llanelli at the same juncture two years ago, the season after winning the Heineken Cup, Foley insists that the circumstances are different.
“Munster weren’t playing well this time two years ago, the form wasn’t good. There is a big difference now, because the team is bringing good form into this game,” he said.
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