'Magical family moments in the garden' at centre of tributes at Anthony 'Axel' Foley funeral
"I am fairly certain God could do with a top class number 8" - Father Pat Malone
Anthony Foley was a man who lived life with “dignity and personal and professional integrity”, mourners heard at his funeral on Friday afternoon.
Clarecastle parish priest and family friend Father Pat Malone shared tributes and stories with the thousands of mourners who attended the funeral in St Flannan's Church in his hometown of Killaloe.
He described “magical moments” in the family’s garden as his main memories of Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley.
Munster rugby legend and dad-of-two Foley (42) died suddenly in the team hotel in Paris last weekend, just hours before his side were due to play Racing 92 in the European Champions Cup.
A deeply emotional and somber violin rendition of the Munster battle cry 'Stand Up And Fight' was played ahead of the funeral.
Munster players past and present formed a guard of honour outside St Flannan's Church.
Anthony's coffin, bearing two caps he received playing for Munster and for Ireland, was carried into the church by pallbearers including his two sisters, Rosie and Orla and former Ireland international Donnacha O'Callaghan.
Olive Foley followed behind with their sons.
During the ceremony she spoke of the stresses in the final two years of her husband's life as Munster coach as she fought back tears to give a heart-rending eulogy to her husband, the legendary Axel, at his funeral Mass in Killaloe today.
"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 [when he] 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."
Orla read the first reading in the mass, with Rosie giving the second.
Ahead of the funeral, mourners were told that Olive Foley had specifically requested a prayerful, reflective quiet space in which to mourn Anthony.
Radio stations nationwide paid tribute to the rugby legend by simultaneously playing the Irish rugby anthem, ‘The Fields of Athenry’ at midday as the funeral began.
Amongst those in attendance were former Ireland manager Declan Kidney, former Ireland internationals Keith Wood,Tony Ward and Peter Stringer.
Munster Chief executive Garret Fitzgerald was present.
Other rugby names present were former Ireland internationals Shane Byrne Ronan O'Gara and Donnacha O Callaghan.
Johnny Langford, former Munster coach Alan Gaffney, and former Munster player Rob Henderson and Simon Zebo was present.
'Lived life with dignity'
Father Malone described Anthony Foley as a “friend and next door neighbour.”
Speaking in the homily, the priest said what touched him most about reading about the tributes throughout the weeks was the “amount of care” he offered to people.
“What touched me most [from the tributes during the week] was the amount of care he offered to so many different people. He had that great human capacity to sense or notice those who were struggling in one way or another,” he said.
“[He had the] ability to reach out to them and include them in a sensitive and caring way.
“That outreach made all the difference to these people.
“He offered people hope when they felt hopeless, confidence when they were deflated, and simply wished them on when they were unable to do it themselves,” he continued.
“He was a man who lived life with dignity and personal and professional integrity.”
Fr Malone said he was privileged to be the Foleys’ next door neighbours and he paid tribute to Anthony as a “wonderful family man”.
He said Olive was his “true love”.
Speaking directly to his wife, he said: “You complimented each other so well, Ying and Yang, in perfect balance with each other.
“My memories of Anthony as a loving, caring and interested dad revolve around the magical family moments in the garden.
“Anthony pucking a sliotar with his lads, kicking a football, swinging a golf club and erecting a trampoline.
“I remember him at the excitement of the hens’ arrival… searching with his boys for the eggs that were laid.
“The excitement when they were found was shared and young Tony would look over the fence and invite all to breakfast.”
He continued; “His presence was reassuring, his sheer support, his sense of camaraderie made all the difference and , to borrow from another famous footballer anthem, knowing Anthony’s presence was knowing you’d ‘never walk alone’.
“Anthony Axel Foley made many a mark in his 42 short years of life, just look around and see the warm, affirmed marks left on family , friends, colleagues , sports fans, this local community, rugby wherever it is spoken of, that to name but a few.
“Olive, may the benchmark of his love be the ray of light that dispels the incomprehensible darkness you speak of in the family statement, a darkness that we must work our way through over the coming days, weeks and years.”
He added; "As we commend the care of God, we ask that he may sleep that sleep of peace in God's presence. I am fairly certain that God could do with a top class number 8."
The Taoiseach was represented by ADC Commandant Lorraine Fahey while President Michael D Higgins was represented by ADC Col Michael Kiernan.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan was present with Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, junior sports minister Pat O'Donovan and Minister for Housing, Simon Coveney.
There will be two sets of pallbearers, both of Munster players former led by Paul O'Connell and one of present players from the existing squad led by Niall O'Donovan, team manager.