Monday 19 March 2018

Family, fans and teammates unite in tears and silent tribute

Munster and Glasgow Warriors players observe a minutes silence in memory of the late Anthony Foley Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster and Glasgow Warriors players observe a minutes silence in memory of the late Anthony Foley Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Anthony Foley's fine sons Tony and Dan joined their father's team on the hallowed turf of Thomond Park in a day of raw emotion at the home of Munster Rugby.

And in a fitting tribute to the legendary Axel, the men of Munster, charged up, defiant and brave, beat Glasgow Warriors 38-17 in one of their best performances in years - just six short days after their beloved coach died suddenly in Paris. After the final whistle, Munster players and staff were joined on the field by Tony and Dan Foley.

Together they went to the corner of the ground where children from Foley's old club, Shannon RFC, were sitting to thank them for their support.

Then, the Munster players and staff huddled in the centre of the pitch to lead a full house of 25,000 in a special verse of the club's anthem Stand Up and Fight. Tears were shed both on and off the field, as many of the players, staff and supporters were overcome with emotion after a difficult week.

Afterwards, President Michael D Higgins visited the home side's dressing room to console the players and pay tribute to Foley. Watching on among the legions of supporters were Housing Minister Simon Coveney and Munster heroes Ronan O'Gara, Paul O'Connell, Alan Quinlan and Mick Galwey.

"As a friend you couldn't get better," said Galwey. "He was just a solid fella and a solid friend that you could turn to at any time. Axel was a genius. He always did the right thing or called the right move and appeared at the right place and he really was a very good captain."

Yesterday's bravura performance on the pitch, laden with emotion, concluded what was a traumatic week for all involved on Shannonside as Anthony Foley at just 42 summers was buried in his native Killaloe, Co Clare, on Friday.

Before kick off, special books of condolence were opened for supporters to pay their respects.

Many had already done so, as thousands gathered at Thomond Park throughout last week to celebrate Foley's achievements on and off the field and to thank him for his contribution to Munster's rich history.

Supporters were asked to make sure they were in their seats 20 minutes before the 1pm kick off so they could take part in a special commemorative crowd mosaic in the Stadium's west stand.

However, the bars and concourses around the ground were empty long before that.

Before the game got under way, the Munster Rugby Supporters Club choir and soprano Sinead O'Brien sang The Fields of Athenry, Stand Up and Fight and a special version of Shannon's anthem, There Is An Isle.

A video tribute was played on the stadium's big screen as supporters recalled Foley's achievements in Munster red and Irish green.

The players then took to the pitch, led by captain Peter O'Mahony, in special jerseys with "Axel" embroidered below the crest.

Foley's regular number eight shirt was retired for the day, with CJ Stander opting to wear the number 24 instead.

A minute's silence was then impeccably observed.

O'Mahony said it had been a difficult week for everyone at Munster but the players' thoughts were with Foley's wife, Olive, and the couple's sons.

"Obviously that's all we're thinking about outside of maybe the 60 or 70 minutes of training we did on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We've just got to be there for them now. It's not about us. It's not about anything else. It's about minding them now over the next few weeks."

Sunday Independent

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