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Dublin: 4°C Tuesday 26 January 2021

Foley looks to end first season at Munster with Pro12 final success

The southern province clinched their final place with a 21-18 win over the Ospreys.

THERE HAVE BEEN tough moments for Anthony Foley at Munster in his first season as head coach of his native province, but the former number eight is in charge of the only Irish side that can end the 2014/15 campaign with silverware.

John Ryan, Ronan O'Mahony, Paul O'Connell and Donnacha Ryan celebrate at the final whistle John Ryan, JJ Hanrahan, Paul O'Connell and Donnacha Ryan celebrate at the final whistle. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

His influence over Munster has grown as the season has developed and though he admitted his side’s 21-18 win over the Ospreys yesterday was “touch and go at times,” there was satisfaction at seeing the province into their first final since 2011.

Foley will have a strong belief in Munster’s ability to finish the job next weekend against Glasgow in Kingspan Stadium, even if he’s wary of the attacking threats Gregor Townsend’s side will bring to the final.

First, the ex-Ireland international and his coaching team will reflect on surviving a thrilling semi-final against the Ospreys, one they’ll feel they should have put away well before a grandstand finish.

The losses of Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony inside the first 45 minutes of the game were clear blows, but Foley denied that there was a lack of leadership in the closing half an hour with that influential pair absent.

We kick our goals and we’re not having this conversation, we were two from eight,” said Foley post-match. “I think that’s where we were in the game and that’s disappointing, as well as handing them scores.

“But we still had Denis Hurley on the pitch leading the side, we still had Paul O’Connell leading the side in the pack, so we had a lot of quality out there. We had a lot of physical leaders out there in Andrew Smith and CJ Stander, Dave Kilcoyne was physically going at them, Paddy Butler was physically going at them.”

While admitting that it was disappointing to be “fighting for our lives, fighting for another week in the season” in that closing minute, when the Ospreys had a Josh Matavesi try chalked off due to a Rhys Webb knock-on, Foley also looked to the positives.

Anthony Foley Foley is hoping to end his first season in charge with a trophy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“The character that the players showed, the work rate to keep turning up for each other, fellas in the backfield throwing their bodies under other bodies to chop fellas who’d beaten them for feet, it was an incredible effort.”

Chief among the men flinging themselves into contact was Paul O’Connell, once again looking far younger than his 35 years of age.

There were emotional scenes as the legendary lock admitted it was probably his final game for Munster at Thomond Park, and Foley lauded O’Connell’s performance in what was another tough semi-final situation for a team that’s lost quite a few of them.

Brilliant, brilliant. Set-piece, work rate, driving other people, it’s just constant search of a trophy for him. We were one from nine in semi-finals so a lot of our players wouldn’t have good experience in semi-finals.

“We’ve had a lot of hurt around them and we just needed to get one over the line. Two teams will go at it hard in Kingspan next week and I can guarantee that the team that wins it will have earned it this year.”

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Murray Kinsella

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