In October 2016 news of the sudden death of Munster rugby head coach Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley reverberated throughout the rugby world and beyond. The former Irish International and Munster captain had died of a heart attack in the team hotel in Paris on the morning of his clubs Champions Cup match against Racing 92.
Tonight on RTÉ One, after the main evening news, a documentary about his life, his impact and the reaction to his passing will bring the story of ‘Axel’ to his friends, family and the wider audience of primetime television.
More words were written and said about Foley in the 48-hours after his death than were probably ever uttered by the man in his short 42-years on earth.
Tonight’s programme poses the question of who was the man they called ‘Axel’ and what was it about him that created such an outpouring?
He was Munster’s first captain to lift the iconic Heineken Cup in 2006 and then bagged his dream job becoming Munster head coach in 2014.
He learned the parish mentality from his dad, Brendan, a Shannon legend who played for Munster and vanquished the All Blacks in 1978.
From schoolboy star to driving Shannon to a historic four in a row All-Ireland League titles Anthony became a force in Limerick rugby and part of the backbone of a Munster team when the sport turned professional in 1995.
He made his International debut the same year and went on to become the stalwart of a Munster team that roared to life for a prolonged period in the 2000s when they were nearly kings of Europe and feted throughout the rugby world. After many heartbreaking defeats Foley secured his place as a Munster icon when he captained their first Heineken Cup winning team in 2006.
And when he retired in 2008, he had one thing on his mind, to coach Munster and to continue the dynasty that he had helped to instigate as a player. He ascended to that position in 2014, taking on a job that had always been his destiny. But his coaching dream became something of a nightmare as he and his young coaches struggled to equip the new Munster generation with the weapons required for success.
Modern sport is unforgiving and Axel witnessed that first hand as media, former players and supporters rounded on the team in his second season at the helm.
And then, just as things started to improve, that he was taken from us, dying in service in Paris on a European Cup weekend, the kind of occasion that he had always cherished.
So why did his passing have such reverberation? People way beyond Munster had connected with his story without knowing it. They had felt the honesty and pride of him and his team as they failed and failed harder in pursuit of their European dream before finally succeeding in 2006.
Anthony Foley: Munsterman tells a story of Munster rugby through the life of one man. Told from within the Munster family, it promises honest insight into the events surrounding Foley’s time as head coach, his death and the emotional aftermath.
Munster Rugby and RTÉ Sport are among the more than 230 organisations that play an active part in the Sport for Business community.
Sport for Business features regular interviews and events with our members providing exclusive insight on the relationships that work best for sport and business.
Image Credit: YouTube Wildfire Films