Jerry Flannery Discusses The Day Anthony Foley Died & Life At Thomond Park Since
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Jerry Flannery has spoke in a telling interview with Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh of the Times about the day Anthony Foley died and life at Munster since.
The Munster scrum coach was part of Munster’s most successful era with Foley as a teammate, winning two European Cups, before being brought in by his friend as scrum coach at the beginning of his tenure as head coach.
Speaking following Munster’s poignant fixture in Paris, Flannery has opened up about that faithful day in October when he and his colleagues discovered that Anthony Foley was no longer with him.
Flannery and four of Munster’s staff went running in Paris on the morning of October 16, from their hotel to the Eiffel Tower. They felt it was the the best way to give new defence coach Jacques Nienaber his first viewing of Paris.
Upon returning to the hotel, Flannery texted Foley after he has missed the lineout meetings.
“He was never late, so I thought he maybe got the time zone wrong, or went to a gym he’d seen the day before – but sleeping in was more realistic,” he said, with a half-smile.
Flannery then rang Foley’s mobile phone, then his hotel room, but quickly the news broke that his friend has sadly passed away. Flannery was first in denial, then in shock and finally in acceptance of the reality. Anthony Foley was dead and he had to act.
The former hooker was suddenly in ‘crisis mode,’ aware that he needed to let Anthony’s friends and family know what had happened, before it filtered through to the media.
“It slowly seeped in, and we had a limited time frame to keep players away and contact family and let them know. We had to get a message to Olive [Foley’s wife] who was the most important person, then we heard Brendan, his dad, was over, and we had to contact him, and how do you do actually do something like that?”
After Foley’s family and Munster’s players were informed, Flannery’s thoughts went to all of Axel’s teammates and friends from over the years.
“What about Axel’s mates? All my mates, team-mates, everyone who played with him in Shannon, Munchin’s?” Flannery said.
“We made a list, I started ringing them. It was so weird, like ringing Peter Stringer, and he’s like, ‘Well Fla, how’s it going’, and I say, ‘Strings, I’ve some really bad news’. . . you’re going through it and you’re drawing up old Munster teams and crossing people off, then going through old Shannon teams . . .
“I ended up saying the exact same thing to everyone, but people weren’t getting upset because they couldn’t comprehend it was real that I was ringing them and saying it.”
Munster ended up playing Glasgow the day after Foley’s funeral, recording a bonus-point victory in an emotional day in Thomond Park that has since sparked a revolution in Munster, who have won 10 of their last 11 games.
Flannery doesn’t know how it happened, but you can be damn sure, he’s rather lose every game and have his friend back. He’s also somewhat embarrassed that it has taken Axel’s death to galvanise the team.
“I don’t have a view on how it happened, there wasn’t a choice, if we had a choice, I’d rather we lost every game for the rest of the year and Axel was alive, but this is what happened,” Flannery said.
“I don’t think any coach or player could envisage this happening. It’s as if he gave us a huge perspective check.
“After the Glasgow game we didn’t say, ‘That’s us done now’. Every single day, every match, every meeting, he’s there. It’s about trying to remember that feeling; ‘It’s a game’, that’s what Axel wanted ultimately. He would see the potential in the players, but they seemed burdened by the expectation to win and be perfect, but he just wanted them to go out and give their absolute best. That’s what Munster fans want as well.
“I’m actually embarrassed that it took something like this . . . I suppose it seems to have happened with everyone, it took something like this to realise it’s a game, and the whole thing for Munster is you go out and empty the tank and people realise that, and win lose or draw, the people will get behind you.”
You can read the full interview in the Times here