Saturday 21 September 2019

'Some people cried. Some people walked out. It was surreal and chilling' - Conor Murray on hearing about Anthony Foley's death

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
Ger Keville

Ger Keville

Conor Murray has recalled the devastating moment the Munster players were told that Anthony Foley had passed away.

In a lengthy, compelling interview with the Guardian's Donald McRae, the Ireland and Munster scrum half bravely reveals how he still thinks about his mentor and friend every day since his untimely passing from acute pulmonary oedema on October 16 - the day Munster were due to play Racing 92 in their opening Champions Cup match.

Murray fondly remembers Axel and talks about the "beautiful outpouring of sympathy" and the endearing strength of Anthony's wife Olive and the kids, but admits that it is "strange but natural" to see people carry on as normal now.

In the piece, McRae describes how Murray is visibly upset while talking about that fateful day as Murray explains: “We woke up, had breakfast and at 11 o’clock we had our lineout walkthrough with the forwards.

Anthony Foley, right, speaks with Conor Murray
Anthony Foley, right, speaks with Conor Murray

"Axel is usually at that but there was no sign of him. The lads thought he’d slept in or forgotten the time-difference. Back at the hotel, before the pre-match meal, people were scurrying around. I remember seeing our physio holding the lift with his leg and saying: ‘The green bag, the green bag …’ It was his medical bag. Someone handed it to him and the lift went up.

“People started asking: ‘Where’s Axel?’ I said: ‘Man, I have a bad feeling here.’ An ambulance pulled up outside our hotel but they didn’t seem in a rush and that made it even more worrying. Rassie Erasmus [Munster’s new director of rugby who took over once, this season, Foley moved back down to being a coach] called us in. He was emotional and said: ‘Axel’s sick. I don’t know what’s happening yet.’

“Twenty minutes later Niall O’Donovan [the team-manager] came down and just said it: ‘Axel passed.’ Some people cried. Some people walked out. It was surreal and chilling. I sat there and said: ‘Oh my God.’ I couldn’t believe it so I rang my dad. He was at the ground and they were all having beers. He could see other people finding out as news trickled through the crowd. The mood changed completely.

“We had six hours to wait for our flight so we went to a cafe and had a pint for Axel. What else do you do? He had just died but we ended up laughing about things he did, which is natural. But Axel had been a big part of my life for seven years.”

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One profound moment following Axel's death was when Munster played Glasgow Warriors in a Thomond Park drenched in emotion.

Following their resounding win, Anthony's kids - Tony and Dan - joined the Munster players in a circle in the centre of the pitch and belted out Stand Up and Fight.

It was a surreal and poignant show of solidarity and a moment that captivated the whole country and extended rugby community.

"The game against Glasgow, six days later, was when his two boys, Tony and Dan, joined the team in the huddle on the pitch," says Murray.

"That was the moment I couldn’t stop myself crying. Really. The funeral had been the day before and, in the huddle, we sang [Stand Up and Fight]. It was chilling. I can feel it on my neck now. The crowd went silent and listened. You could feel how close everyone was in that moment. We were mourning together, sharing our grief and supporting each other. It was incredible – far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.”

The full interview can be read here.

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