Anthony Foley: A humble man who led from the front

He played 62 times for Ireland

BY Simon Maguire 19:15 Sunday 16 October 2016, 19:15 16 Oct 2016

Captain Anthony Foley raises the Heineken Cup Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

The European Cup win in 2006 was the signature moment for Munster legend Anthony Foley.

Foley played for Munster 202 times and amassed 62 international caps but, without doubt, the victory over Biarritz in the 2006 Heineken Cup final in the Millenium stadium is the moment which defines him as a player.

Munster had toiled for years before finally claiming the holy grail of the European Cup, and Foley was there for it all.

The province's love affair with European dominance had become a struggle which looked, at one stage, as though it may go unfulfilled.

The narrow loss to Leicester in 2002, when Neil Back controversially slapped the ball out of Peter Stringer's hand before a scrum in the dying minutes of the final, looked to be the moment for which Munster's European odyssey would be best remembered in years to come.

The incident itself became a cruel reflection on Munster's European chase. Although behind on the scoreboard when it happened, the red army could sense the score they required to finally end their duck. Instead, the chance was gone in an instant with a slap from Back.  

After years of near-misses and controversy, Munster finally claimed what they believed to be their destiny, and became champions of Europe in 2006.

Despite losing their first match away to Sale, Munster won their remaining pool matches against Castres, Newport-Gwent Dragons and then Sale again, before dispatching Perpignan in the quarter final at Lansdowne Road. 

Only Leinster stood in Munster's way, blocking the path to the final. The men from the capital came into the game riding a wave of optimism; they had beaten French giants Toulouse in the previous round, but they were suffocated by their domestic rivals and never got out of first gear, as the men from Limerick brushed them aside by a scoreline of 30-6.

Foley then captained the side into an epic contest in the cauldron of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, where they met Biarritz.

It was fitting that he led the province to a 23-19 victory, front and centre at their finest hour. Playing alongside Paul O'Connell, Ronan O'Gara and David Wallace, Munster finally claimed the prize which had eluded them for over a decade. 

Foley lifting the European Cup is the picture which signifies the rewards for persistence and hard work. Nothing sums up the man more. Dedicated, relentless and humble.   

When somebody dies it is easy to focus on the positives, but with Anthony Foley there are no negatives to hide. Liked by all, followed by many - Foley led from the front and put his team first.

When recent results at Munster weren't going to plan and a new direction was required, he showed true leadership by accepting the need to facilitate a new direction.

Speaking after the Ulster game today, Les Kiss summed him up best: "He was a very generous man, he couldn't do enough for people. When you have someone like that in the game in your country, like Ireland have, it's a blessing. This is such a sad loss for everyone." 

That leadership and generosity was in evidence throughout his rugby career, and it is no coincidence that he was there to lead Munster as they wrote a new chapter in their illustrious history. When fans look back with fondness on the victories and European conquests that have become part of the province's folklore, it will always be, fittingly, the image of Anthony Foley that comes to mind - front and centre.

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