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Rosie Foley in Killaloe. Pic by John Kelly

“We Learned The Tough Way With Anthony That You Have To Make The Most Of Every Day”

Never assume that tomorrow is going to come, so do your best today.

It is a mantra that was always present in the Foley household when Rosie, Anthony and Orla were growing up, but little did they know the meaning it would take on in later years.

Life after Axel will never and could never be the same, but putting the focus on the fact that there is still a life to be lived has helped to put a semblance of shape back on a daily routine.

For a family like the Foley’s, sport was always going to be the cornerstone of that life and from an early age, Rosie recalled that it was always something that was in the family DNA.

“I don’t remember a time growing up when sport was not part and parcel of our every day lives. We regularly had games out on the back lawn when we lived in Murroe, and once we moved to Killaloe we were encouraged to learn how to swim. We were encouraged to try everything really, and we played as many sports as we could. There was no women’s rugby really when I was growing up, which was a real pity, but what I did find was that when I eventually got into it, all the other sport that I had played as a child really stood to me. We ran with St Cuan’s Athletics Club, and played camogie and gaelic football, so that gave me a really good base to work from. Of course, we live in Ireland, which is an island, so we had to learn how to swim too” she noted.

Rosie’s career in Irish women’s rugby saw her earning 39 international caps from 2001 to 2006, playing in two Rugby World Cups during that time. She also captained the Munster and UL women’s teams, and was a founding member of the UL side. That milestone was honoured in 2018 when the PE and Geography teacher at St Anne’s Community College was inducted into the UL Sports Hall of Fame.

It might have been rugby which catapulted her to national fame, but before that she was already an All Ireland champion, having been part of the Clare Ladies Football team which claimed the All Ireland Junior title in 1996.

She made huge waves in the Women’s Rugby scene, but the love of watersports, which was fostered from an early age in Killaloe, would lead to her undertaking some of the most gruelling tests of her sporting career. She outlined that the first big prize she got for her exploits in the water is one she still fondly remembers.

“When we learned how to swim, I got my prize which was a ragdoll with yellow hair and a blue dress that I had picked out from Jimmy Whelan’s shop. That is what I said I wanted for learning how to swim so that is what I got” she laughed.

It was while watching a black and white film about the life of the famous “Queen of the Waves” Gertrude Caroline Ederle that Rosie decided she would aim for the stars from the water. The American was the first woman to cross the English Channel in 1926, and 88 years later, that feat would be mirrored by the Killaloe woman.

2011 saw Rosie take that first foray into long distance swimming as she swam from Deer Rock to Killaloe, a distance of 6 kilometres. On July 26 in 2014, just weeks after swimming the length of Lough Derg, the ‘Everest of Open Water Swimming’ was conquered as she crossed the English Channel solo. Shakespeare’s beach near Dover was the starting point, with her pilot boat Optimistic, manned by Paul Foreman accompanying her. Her husband Pat Minogue and friend Fionnuala Walsh, who completed her own Channel swim in 2012, acted as her support team. The draining test lasted 15 hours and 53 minutes before she reached a French beach, having crossed the Channel which is almost 22 miles wide at its narrowest point.

She was never one for resting on her laurels, and on January 31 this year, she was certified as a member of the International Ice Swimming Association. This is achieved by completing a minimum of one mile in water temperature of 5 degrees Celsius or lower. Being based in Killaloe meant Level Five restrictions were no barrier as she covered the 1.11 miles at Two-Mile Gate in just under 35 minutes.

Battling against the odds is something she is no stranger to, and she recalled her days of shaking buckets outside Thomond Park in order to raise funds for the Munster Women’s Rugby team. With the profile and standards for modern day players improving all the time, Rosie feels that the trail blazed by her generation allowed that gap to begin to be bridged.

“I feel that I was a part of that and because we kept striving to be better, it helped to keep pushing that cause. Anthony was central to that too in showing me how they would go about their training and they would let us in to train with them too. They were quite happy to do that and it was often a case of being in the weights room and the likes of Anthony or David Wallace just telling us to jump in with them. There was no difference between us in that sense and they were hugely supportive of us. There would often have been situations where we would have met them at airports and it could lead to an impromptu front row scrummaging session. We fought for so many things in our time. I remember meeting the head of the World Rugby once and he told me that all the associations were going to have to change or they would not be getting their allocations of grants unless women are participating. That has to happen more and women have to make sure their voices are heard too” she said.

Her drive to continue that progress has seen her succeed her father Brendan as the President of Ballina-Killaloe Rugby club this year, something she hopes will be an inspiration for the next generation to follow.

“It is the love of sport that drives you and makes you want to have effective change that will stay. I have two boys and a girl and I know that my daughter would love to see that she will have the same opportunities as the boys. The boys follow the women’s rugby as much as they do the men’s game and all you want is that they can see a way of becoming anything that they want to be. We are making good strides with the work being done at underage level with the East Clare Titans, and the new development in Scariff will help to build toward a good future too,” she said.

The drive to continue tackling each new day is one that keeps the Foley family going, with 2021 marking five years since Anthony’s tragic passing. Rosie outlined that focusing on making the most of life is still their mantra, and that the times they had with Axel will always be in their hearts.

“We learned the tough way with Anthony that you have to make the most of every day. We had some brilliant times with him and there is some solace in looking back and having no regrets. We took out loans to go and watch him play and just went for it. If we never had Anthony, we would have missed out on so much. We experienced the highs but also the lows of losing finals, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. There is so much of Anthony still all around us. My two sons and his two sons are in school together at St Munchin’s and he loved it there. He loved his club rugby, he loved watching the lads play with Ballina-Killaloe or playing hurling, it didn’t matter what it was because he loved seeing them enjoy it. He has given us a great gift really and we are so lucky to have all those lovely memories with him. Sport is our sense of community and it is a part of our identity. We knew that Anthony would want us to keep going and that gave us some solace. There was that sense of purpose and we tried to have the mindset that we would not look backwards because that is not the way we are going. As hard as that is to do, it gives you that sense of purpose. It is very difficult because we have lost such a huge part of our lives but there are still other parts that are flourishing. We had to lead the example that no matter what happens, the sun will rise tomorrow so you just have to get up and keep going, but that is not always easy to do” she concluded.

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