Sunday 17 December 2017

Sinead Kissane: A day to pay our respects to a man who made Thomond Park a home to our dreams

Tributes are paid to Munster head coach Anthony Foley outside Thomond Park at the Shannon RFC clubhouse gate this week. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Tributes are paid to Munster head coach Anthony Foley outside Thomond Park at the Shannon RFC clubhouse gate this week. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

No matter what direction you came from, the first sight of Thomond Park through the years always had the effect of making you pause for a moment.

The first glimpse sharpened your wonder of what was in store as you prepared to give yourself over to whatever end of the emotional spectrum Munster took you to that day.

The home of Munster rugby has been a place to show your passion, your feelings, your loyalty, as you sat or stood alongside familiar folk sharing a similar dream and watched players who were born just around the corner or in another corner of the world play together under the one crest.

Thomond Park has given Munster supporters lasting memories.

There has been a Miracle Match there. A win over the All Blacks there.

Munster supporters have their own special memory of when Thomond Park made them hold their breath.

I will never forget the roar when Rua Tipoki, Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi and Jeremy Manning stepped forward to perform the Haka before the game with the All Blacks in 2008 - players who weren't born in Munster but who were Munster.

The thundering sound as they stepped forward was a prelude to a thundering match. We roared during that game which had no real meaning in the context of a European competition but which meant everything that night.

Thomond Park has seen the rise of a European empire, the falling of an unbeaten home record, shows of strength and unity and the reality of hard times.

There have been wins and losses, shoulda won games and coulda lost games. There have been sons and daughters carried onto the pitch in the arms of their fathers after big games to share their memories with them.

We've seen players grow into leaders there. We've seen waves of goodbye from players retiring there.

So much has been shared with us.

There have also been the more private moments for players in the dressing-room with renditions of Stand Up And Fight after they had done just that on the pitch.

In the past, we never went to Thomond Park to escape life. We went to Thomond Park to experience life.

This week supporters have been drawn to Thomond Park and Shannon to mourn the passing of one of its most-loved sons.

On the gates a shrine was created of the people, by the people, for the people in memory of Anthony Foley who went about his life creating extraordinary memories and moments as if it was the most normal, ordinary thing to do.

It's been a week when private grief has been bared. From the moments of reflection of supporters at the gates of Thomond to the harrowing press conference where the emotions of Peter O'Mahony and Rassie Erasmus shook you to your very core.

It's been a week of disbelief with love and loss. Yesterday, the heartbreaking words of Olive Foley hung in the air outside St Flannan's Church in Killaloe.

The grieving wife of Anthony spoke with such tenderness and dignity about her loss and her love for her husband and father of their two boys.

She spoke about his kindness. She spoke with such strength in the face of a devastating loss.

Today we will take memories of her husband with us to Thomond Park.

Munster's decision to go ahead and play their game is one founded in nobility. I hope they take comfort from being together, from the kindness they've shown to each other and the kindness that they've shown to others.

And their kindness and thoughts for the Munster supporters. Today, fans will stand close and unite their own grief in a mass coming together.

It will be a time to pay their respects to a man who made Thomond Park a home to our dreams.

It will be a time to sing the Munster and Shannon anthems. A time to remember his deeds. A time to listen. A time to applaud. A time to show support to the Munster players on the pitch and those in the stands.

And a time to show our passion, feelings and loyalty.

At the homily at the funeral yesterday, Fr Pat Malone said Anthony's "presence was reassuring, his ability to care, his sheer support, his sense of camaraderie made all the difference and, to borrow from another famous football anthem: knowing Anthony's presence, you knew 'You never walk alone'.

We will take our memories of Anthony with us to Thomond Park today. We will stand in his memory.

Irish Independent

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