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Dublin: 9°C Friday 7 May 2021

Pat Lam remembers the first day he went toe-to-toe with his friend Anthony Foley

“Everyone knew him, everyone respected him, and I was just blessed to know him well.”

Lam, centre, and Foley, left, first did battle in the 2000 Heineken Cup final.
Lam, centre, and Foley, left, first did battle in the 2000 Heineken Cup final.
Image: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

CONNACHT COACH PAT Lam said that Anthony Foley was a legend of world rugby and he had the honour of battling him as a player and a coach.

The coach, speaking at NUI Galway yesterday where he was conferred with an honorary degree, said that the late Munster hero would be remembered as a special man on and off the pitch.

Lam said he was distraught to hear the news of the death of the former Ireland and Munster star on Sunday.

Lam and Foley had locked horns on many occasions both as players and coaches, most memorably when Lam captained Northampton and denied Munster a first Heineken Cup in 2000 — both men played number eight that day.

And the Connacht coach said it was with a heavy heart that he remembered a great competitor and friend.

“He was an extremely good friend and I’m still in shock at what happened to him,” said Lam.

“Our thoughts go to Olive his wife, and the kids. It’s a tough day for them and for Irish rugby.

“He was a special man. I was only talking to him last week and wishing him all the best with the European adventure. It’s hard to believe that he’s gone and what’s happened. He will never be forgotten.

“The first time we met, I was captain of Northampton, and we played Munster in the Heineken Cup final. We won 9-8 but we marked each other. Straight afterwards we acknowledged it and that friendship lasted right up until this day.

“We stayed in touch often and encouraged each other. Connacht got off to a rocky start and he was the first one to text me.

“He was a legend in world rugby. Everyone knew him, everyone respected him, and I was just blessed to know him well. It’s an extremely sad time.”

NUIG’s College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Celtic Studies presented Lam with his Honorary Doctorate – while Connacht players Eoghan Masterson, Saba Meunargia and Jack Dinneen were also conferred.

The former Samoan captain led Connacht to their first ever piece of silverware when they won the Pro12 title last May.

He is a former teacher, and says education plays a massive role in sport, as he accepted the Honorary Doctorate on behalf of the people of Connacht.

“It’s very unexpected and it is an extremely proud moment. This is humbling and a special honour.

“I receive this honour on behalf of everyone from Connacht rugby, but more importantly I receive this on behalf of the west of Ireland. There has been some inspiration from the players, but certainly the west of Ireland got behind the team.

“Education is important and it’s great to some of the boys from our squad and team graduate today. Rugby is only a small part of life.

“Life is a journey, and it’s about learning as much as you can, influencing people and building relationships.

“Education translates to rugby. It starts with the heart, the heart sets a dream, has a vision, but then the hard work needs to happen,” he said.

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Daragh Small

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