Anthony Gerard Foley, Irish rugby union player and head coach of Munster, is born on October 30, 1973, in Limerick, County Limerick. He is attached to the same squad during his professional playing career. He is a member of the Munster team that wins the 2002–03 Celtic League and is the winning captain during their 2005–06 Heineken Cup success. He plays for Ireland from 1995 until 2005 and captains the squad on three occasions. He is nicknamed “Axel,” after the fictional character Axel Foley of the Beverly Hills Cop film series. His father Brendan Foley and sister Rosie Foley also play rugby for Ireland.
In March 1989, Foley leads St. Munchin’s College to victory in the Munster Schools Junior Cup. He later represents Munster and Ireland Schools on several occasions over two seasons, notably during the 1992 Irish Schools tour of New Zealand. Winning six games out of eight, Ireland narrowly loses the final game to a New Zealand side featuring Jonah Lomu. A controversial Jeff Wilson penalty-goal wins the game in the final minutes.
Foley makes his professional debut for Munster against Swansea in November 1995, a game that is also Munster’s first ever Heineken Cup fixture. He is on the Munster team that loses 8–9 to Northampton Saints in the 2000 Heineken Cup Final, and is again the runner-up when Munster loses 15–9 to Leicester Tigers in the 2002 Heineken Cup Final. He is finally on the winning side when Munster wins the 2002–03 Celtic League.
When Mick Galwey resigns as Munster captain, Foley narrowly loses to Jim Williams in a vote to decide the next captain. When Williams leaves Munster in 2005, Foley becomes the new captain, and in his first season in the position, he leads Munster to victory over Biarritz Olympique in the 2006 Heineken Cup Final. He has played in all but one of Munster’s first 78 Heineken Cup games until a shoulder injury sustained during Munster’s 21–19 victory over Leicester Tigers at Welford Road Stadium in their first game of the 2006–07 Heineken Cup causes him to miss his side’s subsequent victory over CS Bourgoin-Jallieu, as well as back-to-back games against Cardiff in December 2006.
Foley stands down as captain at the beginning of the 2007–08 season, making way for Paul O’Connell. He is dropped for Munster’s final fixtures of the 2007–08 Heineken Cup, and announces his retirement for the end of the season.
Foley makes his debut for Ireland against England in the 1995 Five Nations Championship on January 21, 1995. He scores a try on his debut in an 8-20 defeat. He goes to the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, and plays as a replacement in one pool game against Japan which Ireland wins 50-28. He misses the 1999 Rugby World Cup, but is selected for the 2003 Rugby World Cup, featuring in two of the pool games against Romania and Australia.
Foley captains Ireland three times: in 2001 against Samoa, and in 2002 against Romania and Georgia. His last international is against Wales in the 2005 Six Nations Championship. In total he plays in 62 matches for Ireland and scores 5 tries against England in 1995, Romania in 2001, Fiji in 2002, France in 2004, and Wales in 2004.
In March 2011, it is announced that Foley will take over as Munster forwards coach at the end of the 2011 season. He temporarily replaces Gert Smal as Ireland’s forwards coach during the 2012 Six Nations Championship, after Smal is forced to miss the remainder of the tournament with an eye condition. He signs a contract extension with Munster in May 2013. The following year it is announced that he will succeed Rob Penney as Munster’s head coach, signing a two-year contract that begins on July 1, 2014.
Foley dies in his sleep on October 16, 2016, of an acute pulmonary edema brought on by heart disease while staying at a hotel in the Paris suburb of Suresnes with the Munster squad. The team is preparing to face Racing 92 in its opening game of the 2016–17 European Rugby Champions Cup. The match is postponed as a result of his death. President Michael D. Higgins and then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny make tributes to Foley, and the Irish flag flies at half mast at government buildings in Munster.
Foley is brought home to Ireland on Wednesday, October 19, 2016. His funeral takes place on Friday, October 21, 2016 at St. Flannan’s Church in Killaloe, County Clare.
On October 22, 2016, in the first game after Foley’s death, Munster beats Glasgow 38–17 at a sold-out Thomond Park. Tributes are paid to Foley before, during and after the game and the number 8 jersey is retired for the game, with CJ Stander wearing the number 24 for the occasion. Before their historic first ever win against New Zealand at Soldier Field, Chicago, on November 5, 2016, the senior Irish men’s team pays tribute to Foley by forming a figure of 8, led by Munster’s CJ Stander, Simon Zebo, Conor Murray and Donnacha Ryan, to face the All Blacks Haka. Ahead of a game against Munster on November 11, 2016, the Māori All Blacks team pays tribute to Foley by placing a jersey with his initials on the halfway line before performing a Haka. Māori captain Ash Dixon then presents the jersey to Foley’s sons. Munster goes on to win the historic game 27–14. On January 7, 2017, further tributes are paid to Foley when the rescheduled Round 1 fixture between Racing 92 and Munster takes place.
To honour Foley’s memory and contribution to European rugby, the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) announces that the 2016–17 European Player of the Year would receive the Anthony Foley Memorial Trophy. The trophy is commissioned with the agreement of the Foley family and Munster Rugby and it is envisaged that it will be presented to all future European Player of the Year winners.