When the same team wins a prestigious shield four years in a row, one simply cannot just attribute it to luck or any other superstitious factor. The consecutive wins prove determination, focus and drive from the team, officials and the coach.
Suffice it to say, all of these factors have to be in sync in order to reach the ultimate goal. In this high octane game, one man stands out as a renegade, in a sense, in the coaching arena; it is none other than Neil Foote, who is the coolest in the block, sporting his signature look; the skinny, shorts, tote bag and a mischievous smile.
The first encounter
Let’s take a spin in the time machine to 2012, a year after Neil Foote, the happy-go-lucky New Zealander who literally set foot on this island as coach of the Trinity College Kandy rugby team. Within a year, he had not only gained the respect of the boys, but had become their confidante as well.
Fast forward to 2014, and we see a friend who is also a coach as the boys see it. It is mainly due to the value he places on each one of them. The boys are not merely players of a sport’s team but family, a team which has to hold each other up to succeed. He sees their potential and understands their weaknesses. I bet his cool attitude is also a reassuring factor, whilst many coaches would be chewing on what’s left of their cuticles when things go awry; there are no outbursts from him, no temper tantrums. Merely a pep talk and pat on the back during lemons. Ultimately, they have to make it count as after all, it is their game.
During an era when the voices of youth are often suppressed, the coach of TCK asks them to speak up and prove their mettle. Last year (2013), saw yet another controversial move by the coach, who together with Nathan Riwai – Couch (Trinity Junior Development Coach) had lovingly composed a unique ‘Haka’ for the boys titled ‘Riona Manawa’ or ‘Lion Heart’.
Two years in a row, he encouraged the lads to perform the ‘Haka’ prior to the commencement of the second leg. It uplifts their spirits and abates the tension, making it possible to face their opponent without so much as batting an eyelid.
If he was merely supervising them on the sidelines, one would never see what we see after every game or Bradby, which are the faces of these young boys who are eager to share their glory with the coach. This type of camaraderie is often seen in Hollywood movies, which often portray real life situations, but to find a similar bond in this day and age is so refreshing.
A coach bids adieu: “It was a pretty amazing experience for me, as I watched these lads mature from boyhood to manhood. Their dedication to their school, country and the sport is incredible. I am inspired by the level of support garnered to each of them by everyone. I should also add that the ‘Bradby’ was ‘The Best Experience in my Rugby Career’. It’s amazing to see how much these lads have achieved on and off the field. On the down side, I feel they face a tremendous amount of pressure. Sometimes, people forget that the game is about enjoyment and comradeship. The lads of TCK emulate a special kind of rugby. I would also like to thank the Principal of TCK, the Scrummage Committee and everyone else who supported me throughout my career here. I have made some lifelong friends along the way. I know that the boys will always hold a special place in my heart,” said coach Foote.
Kaneel Seneviratne – Captain – 2012
“Well, he is simply the best coach I’ve worked with. He has helped me not only in coaching, but also in other stuff not related to rugby (like public speaking) it is really easy to work with him. He’s prudent, easygoing and jovial. He has such alluring qualities and he is one of the best people I know.”
Umesh Samarasekera – Flanker – 2014
“To all of us, he has been a father, friend, mentor, provider, and a person who has been with us through thick and thin. He has protected us from criticism and taken the blame for our mistakes and for me, personally, he is one of the biggest reasons for being the player and the person I am today. His undying loyalty towards the team and school reminds me that I can lean on him whenever I am weak. He is the foundation of our team. I am indeed privileged and honoured to have been taught by him. He instilled in me qualities such as loyalty, commitment, a resilient attitude, comradeship and taught me the value of brotherhood and the strength that I can find in it. Today, it is very hard to find such men. He continues to play a pivotal role in my life.”
Murad Ramzeen – Captain – 2011
“I still remember the day I met that great person for the first time in my life. It was during the lunch interval. He was in a red top. I never thought that he would influence my life so much. He was none other than the great kiwi coach. Sir, you were not only a coach to us, you were one of the pillars that kept us strong and more importantly, those lessons you taught us changed our way of living. You will always be in the hearts of Trinity…moments of yours will be cherished for ever…not only by whoever who played under you…but whoever who call themselves Trinitians… Sir… You will be our HERO forever…you will be our LEGEND forever.”
Basu Karunathillaka – Vice-Captain – 2014
“He was a father to a father-less son. He is one reason Trinity rugby is in such a high standard. He taught us morals, values and everything a kid needs to know. He coached a bunch of kids into becoming gentlemen. He was the epitome of success. Whenever we needed something, he was always there to lend a helping hand. He is more than a coach to me, he is a father. He made our team into a family – ‘eka pawulak’; without him, all this would have been impossible.”
Sean Foster – Number Eight – 2011
“After the 1st leg of the Bradby in 2011, the coach saw a few of us looking sullen, without an ounce of faith, as we got trounced by Royal. He walked up to us and said; “boys, I have not lost faith in you, so don’t you dare lose faith in me. At that very moment, we made up our minds that we were winning that Bradby…as coach, he demanded respect, not by intimidation, but through his very own actions and the manner in which he carried himself. He never held back the wealth of knowledge he possessed. He taught us how to rise higher after defeat and be humble in victory.”
Halique Wadood – Captain – 2013
“No matter if you are the captain or even the most junior player, Niel sir always considers the opinions of everyone. Unlike many other coach’s who would balk orders at players, he trained and played along with us. He cares for us like no one else does. He believes rugby is a sport that builds your future. Most importantly, he was never only a coach to us. He was more like a father figure and I believe we were the sons that he wanted us to be.”
“I am extremely proud of my lineage, but if it wasn’t for Murad and that team of 2011 which gave me the ideal team experience, I would not be here. Furthermore, coach Foote has been an inspiration to all of us; giving us everything and taking nothing. He is more than a coach to me; he is a friend, brother, father and a mentor. I owe everything to him. He is the one who has made me into the player I am today, and he has done the same for many other Trinitians. Well, there was a lot of pressure, but I didn’t let it get to me and I trusted in my team who shared that pressure and I am grateful and happy that we won.”
“In any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfilment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle.. VICTORIOUS”
– TCK Rugby Montage Video
Article Written by: Rochelle Palipane Gunaratne
As Appeared on the Island Newspaper
Published 4 years ago by Rochelle Palipane Gunaratne