Sunday 23 October 2016

David Kelly: After the sudden shock, there is now a stark sense of limbo for all

Published 18/10/2016 | 02:30

Ulster's Nevin Spence. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Ulster's Nevin Spence. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Where do we go from here when the ground beneath us has been shifted so violently? What can we say now when everything that can be said has been uttered so awkwardly and insufficiently?

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How does one go forward when no direction seems navigable? Or when we're not sure what lies ahead?

Only the innate intense desire for the bosom of family cleaves the stunned senses.

Gate 11 at Charles de Gaulle Airport is a purgatory for a variety of sad souls, wary fingers scrolling through the endless array of Twitter tributes to a soldier who has been carried from us upon his shield.

Flight EI0523 is a sombre, silent journey and as the nose of the plane points towards the skies, not even the heavens pour forth any sense of solace, for everyone knows that there has been something left behind.

"It's not right," says one middle-aged Munster supporter, a veteran traveller upon countless voyages like this, but never a voyage like this one. "He's not coming home with us."

There are few enough words spoken; talk is spent, rendered a useless currency where 24 hours earlier it had been a safety valve to release an unstoppable flow of raw emotion. Now there is merely a numb sensation gripping all travellers.

Selfishly, it seems, instinctively, everyone turns inwards, to thoughts of their own family and friends, when for all of the previously, still surreal 24 hours, no thought could but alight upon the grieving Foley family.

Where do we go from here? Is it manageable to even conceive of another occasion where all will congregate in Thomond Park and cheer the men in red to the kind of impossible heights that Foley did so much to ensure, to demand?

The professional thought turns to a proposed press conference scheduled tomorrow to preview Saturday's second round of the Champions Cup against Glasgow Warriors. Can such a thing be conceived of when round one was shrouded in such awful tragedy?

Who knows for how long the intractable bureaucracy of France may decide to detain Foley's remains. After the sudden shock, there is a stark sense of limbo for all.

My thoughts inevitably turn to the last tragedy to hit Irish rugby, four years ago now, when the promising young Ulster centre Nevin Spence, along with his father Graham and brother Noel, died after entering a slurry tank on their farm.

Thomond Park hosted a commemoration then, too; Munster played a league game the following weekend in their cathedral and supporters organised a vocal tribute, a rendition of the Ulster anthem, 'Stand up for the Ulstermen', to pay tribute to the fallen tyro.

How Munster can manage to forge through the darkness into light seems inconceivable now. It seems unconscionable they can take to the field before Foley is accorded his final resting place somewhere upon the beautiful hill of Killaloe.

And it seems unconscionable to be even speculating upon the whys and wherefores of where and when fixtures should and should not be accommodated when life - and death - has firmly planted a true context of where sport has a place in our existence.

It may have seemed to us on the outside, that rugby may have been everything to Anthony Foley in life - but there was a much more practical sense in which it had a role to play but never beyond that of his being a father, a husband, a son, a brother and a friend.

How easily can it be to merely set these emotions aside in the haste to convene a game of rugby?

Stephen Ferris has admitted it took weeks for the true devastation wrought by Spence's death to hit home. Within Munster, it will cut even deeper, particularly, as Jane Flannery, mother of his fellow coach Jerry, told me on Sunday: "He had died in the line of duty."

With a family we now know "plunged deep into an incomprehensible darkness and sense of loss", is it right to simply say, as we are told to always do in these situations, "move on"?

And if not now, when can it be possible?

A black, wordless hole from which it seems almost impossible to see any light. But it will come. It will take time. For some it will take so much longer. The community that binds them now will bind them for all time.

Munster Rugby will live on, though Foley will not. That much is now sadly certain.

Whenever they next take to the field, only then will it seem like the right thing to do. It is only a game.

Irish Independent

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