Wednesday 26 April 2017

Tributes flood in for a 'friend to fans and lion on the pitch'

Munster supporters create a 'passport to heaven' for Axel

Anthony Foley with his wife Olive, father Brendan and friend Brian O’Brien. Photo: ‘Limerick Leader’
Anthony Foley with his wife Olive, father Brendan and friend Brian O’Brien. Photo: ‘Limerick Leader’

Alan O'Keeffe in Limerick

A poignant 'passport to heaven' made from a Munster supporter's passport cover was created for Anthony Foley by some of his legion of friends.

A letter to Anthony was placed inside the passport which read: "You'll need this passport to the rugby section of heaven, Anthony. You owe us nothing down here."

Munster fans sign the book of condolence at Thomand Park. Photo: Mark Condren
Munster fans sign the book of condolence at Thomand Park. Photo: Mark Condren

Aoife Danagher (31) from Limerick, one of the group who created the passport, said: "I've known Axel half my life. We thought it would be nice to make a passport for him."

It was just one of the many gestures of Munster fans to remember their hero. Many visited a shrine to him of flags and flowers at Thomond Park.

The president of Shannon Rugby Club, Noel Healy (57), fought back his tears and said: "Anthony was my friend and my golfing buddy and we played together for years for Shannon."

He said that Anthony had been out with the team on Saturday night. When he did not appear for breakfast in the hotel, friends joked he wouldn't normally miss a free meal.

Read more: 'You gave your body and soul to the cause' - Fans flock to Thomond Park to pay tribute to 'fallen leader' Anthony Foley

But when Anthony did not show up for the team line out at noon, his friend Niall O'Donovan went to his hotel room and found him.

Healy added his personal condolences to former Munster and Ireland rugby coach Declan Kidney and his family, at the loss of his wife Ann, who passed away in Marymount Hospice, last Tuesday.

Life-long fan Mary Coll, former director of the Bell Table Arts Centre, said: "Anthony was a legend. He was a hero. He was a leader. He was a champion.

Munster player Conor Murray signs a book of condolence in memory of Anthony Foley at Thomond Park. Photo: Mark Condren
Munster player Conor Murray signs a book of condolence in memory of Anthony Foley at Thomond Park. Photo: Mark Condren

"Over the years, Limerick had a lot of sad events and the only thing we had to cheer us up was Munster Rugby. And Anthony was at the centre of Munster Rugby."

Pride

All sports people, including soccer supporters, are mourning the loss of Anthony Foley, said the chairman of Limerick FC Pat O'Sullivan.

"He epitomised honesty, pride and dignity," he said.

"Munster Rugby is our religion and Anthony was the pope," said retired teacher Trisha Keyes-Bevan (65).

A Munster fan grieve's at the gates of Thomond Park. Photo: Mark Condren
A Munster fan grieve's at the gates of Thomond Park. Photo: Mark Condren

Peadar Mac Donnchadha (52), a technical analyst, said: "I was in the gym with Anthony a few weeks ago and he was as fit as a fiddle. He looked to be in really good shape recently.

"He was like a friend to all the fans. But on the pitch he was like a lion. But he played so fair and was never nasty, just a hard man. I've never seen a player with such a clever mind. And he galvanised his players by putting his body on the line."

Connacht rugby supporter Peter Kenny (56), a retired garda, drove from Galway to the gates of Thomond Park to pay his respects.

"I nearly crashed the car when I heard the news. I thought it must be a mistake. Fans everywhere looked to him as a leader," he said.

Jim Dowling (64) said: "Anthony was a genius of a player. He had the physical ability but he had it between his ears as well. He was gifted.

"It's like being in a bad dream. I couldn't eat my dinner with the news. It's like a death in the family."

Read more: ‘As much as Anthony Foley typified everything that Munster Rugby stood for, he first and foremost bled the black and blue of Shannon’

Munster's academy of sporting prowess at University of Limerick honoured Anthony Foley's memory with a book of condolence and a flickering candle in front of his smiling portrait. The county councils across Munster also opened books for fans to pay their respects.

Retired teacher Tony McKernan (63) from Limerick said: "Even at school level, he led by his example. As a schoolboy, he was the guy who could win a match on his own. He had the magic. And he brought it to Shannon, Munster and Ireland.

"I revered him. He is a massive loss to Ireland and to international rugby."

Katherine Kirby (35) from Tipperary said: "I just wanted to sign the book because he gave his all on a human level to his province, his country. He was inspirational."

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said he had worked closely with 'Axel' over the past few seasons.

"He was incredibly supportive of Munster squad members selected for national duty and immensely proud of any Munster man who pulled on the green jersey," he said.

The IRFU has also opened a book of condolence at its office on Lansdowne Road.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said: "The Irish rugby family has lost a special individual and all our thoughts are with his family at this very sad time.

"Anthony represented Ireland with distinction and will be fondly remembered for his contribution in the green of Ireland and the red of Munster."

Read more: 'Our anguish is bottomless' - Anthony Foley's family thank fans for support in these 'darkest days'

Tributes to a legend

Some incredible memories with an incredible man that will never be forgotten... Heroes Get Remembered,But Legends Never Die...#RIPAxel - Simon Zebo

 

Incredibly sad news about one of the greats Anthony Foley. Thoughts with his family and all the @Munsterrugby family. #Axel - Derval O'Rourke

 

Sometimes events put rugby in2 perspective. Tragic news about Anthony Foley. Thoughts & prays go to his family, friends & all @Munsterrugby - Rory Best

 

Alone on the couch with Jess. Heartbroken. We have lost an incredible man. Too sad to tweet further.. sleep well Axel. We love you..xxx - Ronan O'Gara

 

Privileged to have had him as a coach! A legend gone too soon! #RIPAxel - John Ryan

 

Absolutely devastated for Anthony Foley's family and the Munster and Irish rugby families, we have lost a real hero #ripaxel - Paul McGrath

 

Feeling numb and alone with only thoughts of this remarkable man. My protector on the field, I will miss you forever Axel. RIP - Peter Stringer

 

Thoughts and prayers to family/friends of Anthony Foley.... Awful news - Robbie Fowler

 

Still can't believe the tragic news! Thoughts to Anthony Foleys family, friends & @Munsterrugby boys - Dan Carter

 

As a player he had this innate ability to make the right decision at the right time - Shane Byrne

 

How incredibly sad to hear about the passing of the great Anthony Foley. With enormous respect and deepest sympathy for his family - Jonny Wilkinson

 

Can't quite believe it. So incredibly sad. My thoughts are with Olive, his boys & and his extended family - Brian O'Driscoll

 

Leadership is a special skill. It's about knowing what to say and the time to say it. Anthony got that - Eddie O'Sullivan

Irish Independent

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