Fo­ley’s deep love for his prov­ince shines through in emo­tional doc­u­men­tary

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY - BREN­DAN FAN­NING

THE night be­fore Mun­ster played in their first Heineken Cup fi­nal, they had a team meet­ing that went so deep into the soul it left them emo­tion­ally drained for bat­tle the next day. Their op­po­nents, Northampton Saints, ar­rived to Twick­en­ham held to­gether with band-aids and strap­ping, such was the phys­i­cal toll ex­acted by their run-in to the fi­nal. Nev­er­the­less, they had more than their op­po­nents.

It wasn’t a mis­take Mun­ster made again. You won­der then in the team ho­tel in Cas­tres last night if they gath­ered around a screen to watch their pre­view copy of RTÉ’s doc­u­men­tary,

An­thony Fo­ley: Mun­ster­man to be screened to­mor­row night. Un­likely, we think.

As with any­thing com­ing out of the Wild­fire Films sta­ble, this is a qual­ity pro­duc­tion, beau­ti­fully shot and with a rhythm to it that will draw in as many ca­sual view­ers as it will rugby fans. An­thony Fo­ley’s death, a year ago to­mor­row, dom­i­nated ev­ery news bulletin in ev­ery medium from the shock of the event in Paris to his home­com­ing and burial in Kil­laloe the fol­low­ing week.

It’s a game of two halves: the first tells the story of a young fella who grew up idol­is­ing his rugby-play­ing fa­ther whom he then far out­stripped to be­come a leg­end; the sec­ond il­lus­trates how sport, es­pe­cially its pro­fes­sional ranks, can for­get the glory days of the past and fo­cus in­stead on the bar­ren days of the present.

Conor Mur­ray de­scribes the at­mos­phere around Mun­ster in 2015 as be­ing “a lit­tle bit toxic, maybe”. CJ Stander re­called the pain of be­ing in the stand, a few rows in front of Fo­ley’s fam­ily, as the com­ments started to rain down from the Brave and the Faith­ful who had be­come more Pissed Off and Abu­sive.

“We were mis­er­able, man,” Jerry Flan­nery says of the strug­gle en­dured by a young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced coach­ing team led by Fo­ley. “Ab­so­lutely mis­er­able. It was tor­ture.”

It was in­evitable that changes would be made off the field. And when they were, much was made, nat­u­rally enough, of Fo­ley’s down­beat com­ment that he hadn’t met the new di­rec­tor of rugby, Rassie Eras­mus. It didn’t bode well.

“I fol­lowed the news­pa­per ar­ti­cles and I saw Axel’s com­ments,” Eras­mus says. “And I thought: OK, this guy’s prob­a­bly up­set. He doesn’t know me; I don’t know him. We had to de­cide: lis­ten, you’re on pro­ba­tion here, ei­ther you’re go­ing to go (with) an­other year or we’re cut­ting you out of the thing. Af­ter chat­ting to the guy for half an hour you could see the guy lived, breathed and ate Mun­ster. He just wants the best for Mun­ster.”

And that was the irony. Fo­ley had a sharp wit set along­side a ca­pac­ity for Olympic surli­ness, and we saw a lot more of the lat­ter when he suc­ceeded Rob Penney only to find the job wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. Then, when he got moved side­ways with the ar­rival of Eras­mus, rather than get the hump, he got a new lease on life. The skill of the South African was in tak­ing away from his pre­de­ces­sor the stuff that used to melt his head — like deal­ing with the me­dia — and let him do what he did best: coach­ing. And no sooner was he fall­ing in love again with rugby than his life was cut short.

Re­trac­ing all of this ev­i­dently was emo­tional for some of those who took part in the doc­u­men­tary, as it will be for many more who watch it. You wouldn’t have needed to be a buddy of An­thony Fo­ley to be moved by the story. In the cir­cum­stances then for the play­ers it’s prob­a­bly best viewed af­ter to­day’s game in Stade Pierre Fabre. By which point his pres­ence will have been a driv­ing force.

An­thony Fo­ley: Mun­ster­man, To­mor­row, RTÉ1, 9.35pm

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