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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Robbie: It is a tragic loss for us all

Foley family unite for their special Irish hero

Robbie Henshaw pictured during the Champions Cup match against Castres at the RDS on Saturday Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw pictured during the Champions Cup match against Castres at the RDS on Saturday Photo: Sportsfile
Anthony Foley at a recent Munster press conference Photo: Sportsfile

The beauty of coaching is that it allowed a rugby man, like Anthony Foley, to stay close to the game he loved and had decorated over a thirteen year career.

He was one of the old school warriors who bridged the transition from the amateur to professional eras.

In terms of the sport, the shadow his passing leaves is cast long and dark, not just over those lifelong team-mates, but over those he influenced as a coach for club, province and country.

"It's a tragic loss for Munster and Irish rugby. Axel was a gentleman," said Robbie Henshaw, at the launch of the Aviva Mini Rugby Festivals in Dublin yesterday.

The Leinster and Ireland centre spent time in the coaching company of Foley when representing the Irish Wolfhounds in January of 2013.

Connection

There was further cause connection when Foley stepped up to become the temporary Ireland forwards coach for the lead-in to Henshaw's international debut against the United States of America in June of 2013.

It all came at a time in Henshaw's career when he was turning the leaf of life from boy-to-man.

"He coached me under the Wolfhounds when we played the Saxons over in Gloucester and he coached me when I got my first cap over in the States.

"It's a tough pill to swallow, it's just hard to take," said the 23 year-old.

"I don't know, I just couldn't believe when I heard it. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and with his friends.

"It's a tragedy."

The relationship was strictly that of player and coach as two generations came together to find the best way forward for Ireland.

Foley left an impression on the 'next big thing' in Irish rugby. It was in line with all the ongoing reflections of a man, who worked for the good of all gathered around him.

The only way to get to any destination worth reaching was through a straight-as-an-arrow approach.

"He was a coach who was straight up," imparted Henshaw.

"He firmly believed in just doing your job. He was a really good forwards coach and really good ruck coach.

"Defensively, he worked a bit with me on my defence and my first up hits.

"He was always calm as well. I only played under him twice but I loved playing under him."

The no-nonsense attitude Foley brought as an Ireland number eight lived on in him as a coach.

He would not countenance a backward step. It was not part of his psyche.

That was just the way his father Brendan raised him.

"I remember him helping me when I was kinda smaller," maintained Henshaw.

"He helped me impose myself physically before the American game and the Canadian game.

"He helped me in terms of my tackle technique and getting my body height right and 'putting a hole in someone' as he used to say I think, putting my shoulder through them.

"That's what I remember."

The Foley family took the opportunity yesterday to express their "deepest appreciation" to those who have felt and shared their pain. "Our anguish at the sudden loss of Anthony is bottomless," read their sad statement.

"We have been plunged deep into an incomprehensible darkness and sense of loss that we must work our way through over the coming days, weeks, months and years.

"With Anthony's passing, we have ultimately lost an amazing, adoring and loving father and husband; an equally caring, loyal and devoted son and brother; a central and go-to figure for the wider Foley and Hogan families.

"We know, too, that his sudden deathhas brought the rugby worlds of Shannon RFC, Munster, Ireland and much further afield crashing down.

"You have lost a former player, coach, friend and all-round inspiration - your and our hero both.

"We mourn his loss together."

These are clearly the thoughts and emotions of a family committed to continuing Foley's team ethic right to the end and beyond.

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