Monday 14 October 2019

Munster and Irish rugby in mourning at untimely death of a true legend

It was one of those calm Sunday afternoon's in autumn that usually drifts by without a care in the world. Only last Sunday things were different as news filtered through from Paris that Munster Rugby Coach Anthony Foley was dead.

People do what they always do when faced with untimely death, they question - how one so young, so strong and so brave could leave this world. 42 is no age.

As often happens with sporting icons, we claim them as our own. The former Ireland and Munster number eight was certainly claimed by the thousands who adored him during his time in both jerseys.

He was equally loved and respected throughout the family of nations in world rugby: "Still can't believe the tragic news," said New Zealand star Dan Carter, while England's Jonny Wilkinson simply labelled the news as "incredibly sad".

But the only family that mattered to Anthony was the one that comforted him when the floodlights faded and the meddling swarm of media interest abated. In the comforting arms of his wife, Olive, and their sons Tony and Dan was where the rugby giant sought refuge from the strains of expectation.

The creation of a legend is easy these days due to the artificial world of social media. But what separates the world of fiction from the world of fact is legacy and Anthony's is a formidable one.

Within hours of his death, details of where the public could sign books of condolences were announced across Munster. The Irish flag flew at half mast outside local authority offices in Munster as well.

There was a makeshift shrine too, created at the gates of Stade Yves Du Manoir in Colombes near Paris where Munster had been due to play Racing Metro later that evening. There was a similar scene outside Thomond Park.

At the heart of Anthony's career was his dad Brendan who played for Ireland in his prime and when Anthony's sister Rosie also played for Ireland it completed a fabulous family story.

He may not have been the biggest number eight but he was a leader who had an impressive knowledge and understanding of the game.

Two Heineken Cups and a Celtic League with Munster, a try-scoring debut for Ireland against England in 1995 and a Triple Crown with Ireland in 2004 are testament to this.

The tributes flowed faster than the Shannon this week and were fittingly led by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Michael D Higgins who said that Anthony excelled from a young age and made a huge contribution to the successes of Munster and Ireland. "His death will be received with shock by all those in the rugby and sports world," he added.

A lovable giant, the Killaloe native will soon be laid to rest forever in the soil that once drove his passion to succeed. The land he loved.

But all that really matters right now is Anthony's family and we extend our sympathy to them at this difficult time.

Wexford People