Sunday 19 November 2017

'We were great rivals, but we became even greater friends'

Anthony Foley sharing a joke a little over a week ago with former Munster players John Hayes, Frankie Sheahan, Eddie Halvey and Stephen Keogh
Anthony Foley sharing a joke a little over a week ago with former Munster players John Hayes, Frankie Sheahan, Eddie Halvey and Stephen Keogh
Anthony Foley. Photo: Sportsfile
Anthony Foley lifting the Celtic Cup in 2005. Photo: Sportsfile
Anthony Foley with Ireland manager Brian O’Brien. Photo: Sportsfile

I was back in the house with my kids and the family.

We were just settling into the Ulster game when the news broke. It is just one of those things - you can't believe it's true.

The phone started ringing and the texts started coming. You check the news. And it is true.

He is the first of our generation, of our group, that we've lost, as far as I know.

Honestly, it has hit hard, now that I've had some time to take it in.

It has hit everyone right across the provincial rivalries, rivalries that count for nothing when measured against a tragedy like this.

The idea of a 'rugby family' is a bit of a cliche, but when something like this happens, everyone across the spectrum of the game comes together - we are shocked and stunned and united in our grief.

I had been playing rugby a couple of years when Anthony arrived on the scene.

My relationship with him most of the way through would have been rivalry, via clubs from all his mighty years with Shannon and on up into the Leinster-Munster battles.

I got a chance to play alongside him with Ireland in the early 2000s.

He epitomised so much that was good about every team that he played on. There were more explosive guys out there, fitter guys out there. But there were few with a better rugby brain.

If Anthony thought it was time to inject pace in the game - take a quick tap penalty and run with it - it was the right thing to do. He just knew when to speed it up, slow it down. It was a natural ability he had in abundance.


When you were playing against him, you had to pay attention to him. He had to be part of your planning to combat Shannon or Munster.

He was the anchor, the lynch-pin that was always there, the constant.

There are so many people more qualified than me to speak about Anthony, but I feel very fortunate that I got to know the player and the man.

When he joined me in retirement, I was lucky enough to travel with him on tours to Bermuda - three or four times - and to Australia with Classic Rugby. We hung around together constantly. It was like finding a friend you felt you'd known all your life.

He was great fun. I never had the opportunity to see that side of him as a player.

We were great rivals, but thankfully we became even greater friends through those trips.

He had a wicked sense of humour. It was very, very dry. He never wasted words. When he did say something, he said it in far fewer words than most people - it worked a charm on you.

The complement to the man outside of rugby was that there were seldom people who spent time in his company that felt anything other than warmth for him.

Our thoughts are with his wife Olive, his kids Tony and Dan, and the rest of his family.

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