Ian Costello, former Munster Rugby coach
THE news hit Ian Costello like a bolt from the blue. A short few minutes before his Nottingham Rugby side took to the field against the Scarlets Premiership Select in the opening round of the 2016/2017 British and Irish Cup, Costello learned that his close friend Anthony Foley had died suddenly in France.
Just the night before, Costello had spoken to Foley, who was with the Munster squad in Paris preparing for their Champions Cup opening round clash with Racing 92.
The pair had played soccer together, golfed together and socialised together on away trips. They had shared some truly great days in the Munster backroom team, but there were tough times too, notably during Costello's final season as an assistant coach at Munster.
Former UL-Bohemian Director of Rugby Costello and Foley first worked together with the Munster U-20s at the start of the decade.
"I knew Axel all his coaching career. Axel was finishing up playing and I was coaching the Munster U20s.
“Someone suggested he would be keen to coach. I approached him about getting involved and he did. After that, I was moving on from the U-20s and he was taking over’ the former Munster assistant coach Ian Costello recalled this week.
“He asked me to stay on and I ended up working with him with the U-20s, the Munster A's for two or three years and then Tony McGahan, Rob Penney. Finally he backed me and gave me a great opportunity to work with him as an assistant coach when he became head coach.
"I owe him a huge amount. Look, he would have been a very good friend of mine. We played football together every Monday night, we golfed together all the time, we socialised together when we travelled.
"Like everyone who has been talking about him, it has left a very big hole in my life. When you are away and I was away when it happened, it hits you that little bit more and you feel that little bit more emotional about things.
"I found out a couple of minutes before round one of the B&I Cup last year that he had died. I got through the game and I got home for a few days which was great to be able to do.
"Watching everything around the TV documentary on Monday night and reading everything, they are the times that it is tough to be away, no matter how much you are enjoying what you are doing. That is the attachment to home.
"We went through a very tough time that last year. It was well documented in the TV documentary on Monday night which was good to see.
“We just wanted him to be so successful and get everything that he deserved. He put so much into it, I really wish he got more out of it from a coaching perspective.
"That is the only regret that the last year was the way it was. I know from talking to him, I spoke to him the night it happened when he was in France, he was in a really good place, was in really great form.
“I think he had gotten a bit of his love back again, I think everyone who was talking to him and dealing with him felt he was in a much better place. And I think that was true.”
Former Ardscoil Ris star Costello, who holds an Honours Degree in Sport Science from UL, was grateful to UL-Bohs who gave him the opportunity to work as a full-time Director of Rugby where he coached in the Ulster Bank League.
His career progressed from there, assuming the role of Munster A head coach in 2011 and leading the side to a British and Irish Cup title.
Costello, renowned for his attention to detail, has been credited for aiding the skill development of some of Munster's biggest names. He took on the role of Assistant Coach with responsibility for defence and kicking in July 2014.
With confirmation that Rassie Erasmus was coming in as Munster's first Director of Rugby for the 2016/2017 season, accompanied by Jacques Nienaber, Costello had a call to make, whether to take a punt on having his services retained by the province or look for a new coaching challenge.
Costello said: “We all knew there was a new Director of Rugby coming in and like at any time when a change like that occurs they have always potentially got people that they are going to bring with them. There was so much uncertainty about our futures I suppose the planning had started once that uncertainty came about.
"A few opportunities opened up and none of them I would have seen as realistic options until this one opened up here at Nottingham Rugby. Look, I had been in Munster a long time. I was very keen to broaden my horizons a little bit and then the role of head coach was the route I wanted to go down. It was the right level and the right club and right fit.
"It all happened pretty quickly for a finish because everything was on hold until April. This interview came about I think two days after the Connacht game.
“We were on a bit of a low after getting beaten by Stade Francais with 14 men in Europe and had lost away to Connacht (April 2016). It all happened pretty quickly.
‘What excited me about Nottingham was an opportunity to try out all my own ideas, all my own philosophies, have way more ownership and responsibility, ownership around those.
“Incredible as Munster was and I loved every minute of it, it just seemed like the next logical step to say, this is my programme, my plan, this is how I want to do things.”
Costello and his family, wife Louise, four-year-old son Cian and one-year-old daughter Caoimhe are well settled in Nottingham now.
The green-and-whites are currently sitting pretty in fourth place in the Greene King IPA Championship with four wins from six games.
This Friday, Costello and his Nottingham side face Munster A in a crucial British and Irish Cup fixture at Musgrave Park, 7.45pm.
Nottingham's squad features several ex-Munster players including tighthead prop Rory Burke who joined this season, along with Limerick men Sean Scanlon, ex-Doncaster, while another Shannonsider Gearoid Lyons is in his second year with Nottingham along with Shane Buckley and Jordan Coghlan.
Costello said: "This season the (Irish) boys are far more adapted to that week in and week out rugby in the Championship that they were not necessarily getting with their provinces at home. It is a good learning curve for them.
"Hopefully all of them will be involved on Friday night which will be a massive occasion for four or five of the boys to go back and play a game against Munster.
The players are all incredibly excited about getting back to Cork this week.”