Thursday 23 March 2017

'Anthony will be with us in spirit, every step of the way' - Olive Foley pays emotional tribute to husband

Alan O'Keeffe

Brian O’Driscoll is among the mourners at the funeral in Killaloe Photo: Mark Condren
Brian O’Driscoll is among the mourners at the funeral in Killaloe Photo: Mark Condren

Courage overcame grief for a heart-rending 15 minutes as Olive Foley opened up about the man she loved.

She stood before the coffin of rugby legend Anthony Foley in St Flannan's Church in Killaloe to deliver a poignant eulogy to her husband, and how he coped with the enormous stress of filling the role of Munster coach.

She spoke of her last telephone call with him on the night he died in Paris.

But mostly she spoke of her love for her "soulmate" and their idyllic life with their adored sons Daniel and Tony.

"The last two years were very stressful for Anthony but he took that job as head coach and he gave it everything with the same passion that he had pulled on his jersey and won two Heineken Cups.

"There were very rough days during the last couple of years. But, despite the pressure and hurt during that time, I've no doubt that Anthony now can smile down knowing that he gave it everything."

Olive Foley at her husband’s funeral Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Olive Foley at her husband’s funeral Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

But she added: "He never held a grudge. When I found it stressful sometimes, his advice was always the same. The same line, he'd say. He'd say: 'Ol, I was never as bad as they said I was. And I was never as good as they said I was. So read nothing'."

She was grateful to all those who put the "huge logistics operation" of his funeral into action.

Breaking down, she spoke to her husband with the words: "I'm handing you over to God now. And our faith will get us through this. Lord, nothing is going to happen to me today that we can't handle together."

There was laughter, too, amid the tears when she spoke of flying over to Paris with family members to bring him home. She said: "I am ashamed to say that I said a prayer on the way over in the plane. I said: 'Please Jesus, let him have shaved'."

Read More: 'It was an idyllic life with my soulmate of 17 years' - Olive Foley's heartbreaking eulogy for Anthony

Her gift of humour was warmly met with grateful laughter.

She offered thanks for all the wonderful tributes, including the welcome for his remains passing Thomond Park, at St Munchin's College and along the route home to Killaloe.

"What a homecoming he got in Killaloe, the candles and the prayers," she said

Former Munster and Ireland players Donncha O’Callaghan and Marcus Horan hug before the funeral mass Picture: Frank McGrath
Former Munster and Ireland players Donncha O’Callaghan and Marcus Horan hug before the funeral mass Picture: Frank McGrath

Then she said immediately, to laughter: "He would have absolutely hated the fuss."

She added: "But he would have been very proud."

"Anthony was full of surprises. Every day of my life, he gave me some surprise of some description. But it wasn't really what he said, it was what he did. His kindness was subtle," she continued. "His loss to me and Tony and Dan, Sheila and Brendan, and Rosie and Orla...will be huge."

Olive bravely spoke of their last phonecall.

"My last conversation with him was on Saturday evening. He had been ringing all day because he was a ringer. He rang and rang 20 times a day.

"Every time there was a bit of a lull, he'd decide to ring Olive and he'd say nothing, sure, but I never bothered ringing him back because I knew he'd get me eventually.

"But I rang him back that day and I sat down and we had a few minutes and we chatted.

"And, of course, our chat was about the lads. How the athletics went that morning. How the javelin was going with Tony and he had a little chat with him. It was a lovely conversation. I didn't expect it to be our last."

She went on to speak of their happy life together.

Olive said: "Anthony trusted me with everything. And I intend to honour that trust and make sure our two adored boys will grow up decent, solid men, full of integrity and honesty, just like their dad.

"He just took an interest in everything they did in sports and never missed an auld blitz or a training session," she said.

Wonderful

"From the moment those boys were born, Anthony loved them and adored them.

"I was married to Anthony 17 wonderful years.

"It was an idyllic life. Our home was so happy. It was a haven for all the important things in life.

"We had great plans for the future. And we talked about going to Australia next year.

"But the show will go on. And I'm going to stick to the plan because Anthony is going to be with us in spirit every step of the way," she said. "Anthony was my true soulmate. We were perfect together. And he will never leave my heart."

She read out a text that she was so grateful to receive from a Munster player after his death.

Read More: Axel cared so much about people, on and off the field - David Wallace

The text stated that Axel was "the heart and soul of Munster" and the player had "worshipped him" for 10 years and then he had the privilege of having him as a coach.

The player said he was in a really dark place while he had a long injury and he had felt like giving up.

However, Axel never lost faith in him and always checked in and supported him even though the player himself felt he was "a lost cause."

Her eulogy concluded to thunderous applause and admiration for a brave woman.

Irish Independent

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