Monday 11 December 2017

Tony Ward: A numbing impact on nation way beyond rugby and sport

Selection of messages from across the globe show how much icon's passing has affected so many people

'It's hard to believe that Anthony is now alongside fellow Munster giants Colm Tucker and Moss Keane - both greats friends and team-mates of Brendan. Far too young and much too soon' Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
'It's hard to believe that Anthony is now alongside fellow Munster giants Colm Tucker and Moss Keane - both greats friends and team-mates of Brendan. Far too young and much too soon' Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

As I write this, it's not yet 24 hours since the words 'Anthony Foley dies in Paris hotel' ran across the bottom of my TV screen. Like many, I was watching the Ulster game in Bordeaux, eagerly awaiting the Munster match in Paris to kick off straight after.

I read the words but they didn't register. So I read them again. . . and again. . . and again. In that instant I was frozen in mind and movement. 'That's crazy; they've got that wrong; that couldn't be' was all that was going through my mind. And then my phone began to explode with calls, texts and mails.

We have all been knocked back by tragic moments and events in our time, but this, given its context and the iconic figure involved, has had a numbing impact on the nation way beyond rugby and sport.

Of course life goes on, it has to, and part of me feels I ought to discuss Joey Carbery's terrific performance for Leinster against Castres, or Connacht's magnificent dismantling of the savage physicality of Toulouse's man mountain pack.

But it just feels too soon. I too am frozen in the moment. It doesn't feel right to return to on-field happenings yet.


Instead, I'm going to provide a flavour of the feelings of rugby people about Anthony's passing, from across the globe.

I will not identify anybody by name (bar one) as that would not be fair, but here is an idea of some of those feelings sent from the heart:

From Limerick - where better to start?

"Axel reminded me of Bobby Moore when leading his team out . . . his stature and presence simply demanded performance from his players."

Moore, England 1966 World Cup-winning captain, was elegance personified, with the most amazing footballing intellect that prompted Pele to describe him as the best defender ever.

Now for all the traits Anthony possessed, elegance was most definitely not one. Quite the opposite.

However, it was always crystal clear from his on-field demeanour that he was up for the fight, every fight, and he simply demanded a similar level of performance from his players. Inevitably he got it.

I'm sure that if you asked Paul O'Connell - arguably the most complete Ireland captain ever - who he modelled himself on, Axel Foley would be up there at the top.

Or ask former Munster and Ireland team manager Brian O'Brien - the man responsible for Stand Up and Fight becoming the unofficial Munster anthem before spreading from dressing-room to terrace - and I guarantee he will tell you that it was the Shannon and Munster No 8 and skipper who best epitomised those words.

From Australia:

"Along with every other fan of Munster and Irish rugby, I was heartbroken when I heard about Axel's passing. I had the TV programmed to watch the game this evening.

"When I was at school Anthony Foley was a couple of years ahead of us in Munchin's. We all knew exactly who he was. We all looked on in awe as I seem to recall he lined out for the full Shannon side before he even finished the Leaving.

"I am paying my own small tribute by wearing my Munster jersey and cap in the office today and will be thinking of Axel and his family.

"It's just too sad for words, and I saw another fella across the road on George Street (in downtown Sydney) at lunchtime also wearing a Munster jersey. I caught his eye across the road and we both gave each other a look that said it all."

From Rome:

"Like everyone else I can hardly believe what has happened. It just doesn't seem in the order of things that such a giant of a man is dead.

"We all know about his rugby achievements but what always struck me was how his family were with him through it all. I was in the Holy of Holys in Thomond after a game last year, and sure enough Olive and the kids were there with Anthony as usual.

"I also remember him as a ten-year-old when he used to go on the long run bus journeys with his dad. The idolisation was obvious. He idolised his dad and it goes without saying his dad was enthralled by his son."

Anthony clearly inherited his physique from his father.

As he wrote in his autobiography Axel - A Memoir' re his schooldays: "I had the advantage of being a really big kid."

It's hard to believe that Anthony is now alongside fellow Munster giants Colm Tucker and Moss Keane - both greats friends and team-mates of Brendan.

Far too young and much too soon.

One of my own fondest memories in recent times was of Anthony and Alan Quinlan doing a TV interview after Alan had had a cut at Axel's Munster in his media role.

It was clear the head coach was fuming with the pundit but still the mutual love and passion for each other and for everything Munster shone through. You cannot put a value on that relationship in life.

But I'll leave the last word or more appropriately words to a poem from a former Mungret College schoolboy living now in the Garden Of Ireland.

Titled 'Axel Foley', quite simply it reads:

Axel, where have you gone?

Your place with us was immense

Still is

Absent without leave


Our penalty and our price to pay

You left your position on the field of life

A gaping hole - in fact bigger than that

Our defences weakened

Perhaps not critically

Our attack without its thrust for now

Our faith in life jarred and shaken

Without you

Your sudden departure

Through that great door

We are down a man

A great great man

A friend


Farewell Axel

Rest as you have earned the prize

Our love travels with you

Now and always

Thanks for the memories

Thank you for being you

You were bigger than life itself

That's how it feels

Rest in Peace.

Johnny Perrem, October 16, 2016

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport