All-rounder Foley keen to learn during Academy experience
February 2, 2021 9:42 am client
On 18 February 2018, Blackrock College took on St Gerard’s School in the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior Cup at Energia Park.
The south Dublin school would eventually squeak to a 19-17 win over their Wicklow counterparts, booking their spot in the last four of the competition.
However, the game’s moment of magic came from the St Gerard’s centre, Cormac Foley. Taking the ball just 10 metres from the Blackrock line, Foley lofted a little chip over the onrushing wave of blue and white, latched on to the dropping ball himself and dotted down.
On the day, the commentary team for eir Sport remarked on the opportunism and composure shown by the young centre in what was such an enclosed area of the pitch.
It’s no surprise then that Foley, now in his second year of the Leinster Rugby Academy, has undergone a change of position, getting stuck right into the thick of every phase at scrum-half where that opportunism and composure is as vital as ever.
“I’d mainly be a nine now but I’ve done a lot of moving around so far. I’ve played 12 at the Junior World Cup so I guess I have some sort of versatility but nine would be the focus,” he explains.
Foley earned his place in the province’s Academy after some stunning performances in last season’s Celtic Cup, most notable among those a hat-trick scoring performance against Cardiff Blues in a 47-28 win at the Arms Park.
With the competition seeing all teams allowing a flurry of senior players to take part whether to regain fitness or form, it’s become a tough hunting ground for new faces making their first inroads into Academy or professional rugby life.
For Foley, he feels he’s in the best environment, and learning from the best, to help with making those steps from school and age-grade rugby into Energia AIL, ‘A’, and, hopefully, one day, professional competition.
Standing at 5′ 11″, he isn’t your traditionally built scrum-half, with a lot of similarities to the Ireland number nine jersey’s most regular incumbent over the past decade.
“Obviously you’re playing with a lot of good players, lads coming down from the senior team, but it’s the way Leinster play, quick pace and you get used to it and the way they train.
“It’s not as much of a shock because you’re training at that pace all of the time.
“We do kicking sessions with all the nines, so Lukey (McGrath) is obviously around at the moment and I’m definitely learning a lot from those lads, him and Jamo (Gibson-Park).
“I’m not even always talking to them but watching how they’re training and how they go about their business.
“In terms of the way Leinster want to play, speed of ball is a huge thing for nines, and their running lines and getting in and out of the ruck quickly, and moving the ball. That’s the main thing from the coaches and it’s something that they’re very good at.”
“(Conor) Murray would have been there (a role model) when I was younger, he’s been playing for Ireland for the last 10 years or so. He’s one that you’d look up to, he’s a big nine, I’m not big now but I’m not small!”
While it’s easy now for the focus to remain on rugby for Foley, there’s a hint of an all-rounder about the Newtownmountkennedy man.
Before the Leinster Academy, before joining Lansdowne FC, before playing for his country at underage level, he competed across any code that he could find.
“I have two brothers (Ciarán and Tom) and a sister (Claire), and sport was probably always a big part of our lives. Gaelic, hurling, did a lot of showjumping when I was younger, soccer, everything, rugby obviously.
“Showjumping and rugby would have been the ones I was weaned on to. When I was younger I did everything but those two were the main ones.
“I did it to a relatively high level I guess, going to the Junior European Championships underage,” he says coyly.
In August 2017, he jetted off to the FEI European Show Jumping Championships in Samorin, Slovakia, as part of an Irish team of four competing at Junior (U-18) level accompanied by gelding Ballylynch Wizard.
While not many people have the honour of representing their country in a sport, Foley has managed to do it in two different codes, something that has become increasingly difficult as each sport has grown and developed to the current landscape.
No small achievement and still a lot to come.
More recently, while he has largely maintained a positive outlook through lockdown, both parts one and two, there are elements to the day-to-day student experience that he is beginning to crave once again.
Studying Economics and Finance in UCD and balancing that with life in a professional rugby academy is never something considered easy, but a full transition to online lecturing has helped Foley and his fellow student athletes this semester.
However, he admits, there’s no substitute for the experience of being on-campus and the freedom that comes with student life.
“I just moved club this year to Lansdowne but I haven’t been able to step foot in the place because of Covid restrictions and the bubble. It’s frustrating not to be able to play but we’re very lucky to be able to train and continue as somewhat normal.
“It’s good for us in rugby. It’s fairly mundane studying at home but the fact that everything is online, it allows us to watch things that we would have missed. Most of it is recorded so I can catch up.
“The social interaction part of it, sitting at home studying just doesn’t do it for me, meeting friends just for coffee or studying together in group projects, things like that, I’d definitely miss that side of it.”
So, when a student athlete gets some spare time, what do they do with it?
There’s always extras to be done to get the edge, Foley has started yoga, following the advice of the S&C coaches who also reinforce the importance of mindfulness, now more than ever.
That variety in sporting activity shown in his youth, prior to turning attention fully to rugby during his days in St Gerard’s, is a recurring theme in Foley’s personality.
“Reading and listening to podcasts, I’d listen to a good few podcasts. Wide-ranging, the lads would say ‘nerd stuff’. Some sort of business and economics stuff, and then just general sports stuff.
“I read a book recently ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker. That was good. ‘Shoe Dog’, the founder of Nike. It’s definitely something I would have an interest in, innovation. It’s a good book and, in the long term, I may have an interest in doing something like that.”
While Nike founder Phil Knight was making his way around the world searching for inspiration during his early-20s, Foley, who marked his 21st birthday with a small family dinner late last year, will be hoping that he’ll have made a home for himself in Leinster Rugby HQ in UCD by then.