Gerry Thornley: Thomond in Europe a fitting way to say farewell to Axel
There is no ideal time for Munster to return - but the Champions Cup is the ideal stage
A European Cup clash at Thomond Park is the fitting way to pay tribute to Anthony Foley. Photograph: Inpho/Billy Stickland
There was no ideal time for Munster to return to playing rugby, and certainly within a week of Anthony Foley’s passing and the day after attending his funeral it comes upon them all too quickly. But if there was a place and a competition, it was assuredly Thomond Park and the European Champions Cup.
As Rassie Erasmus said yesterday, this was the ground and the competition that Foley held most dearly, and in which he perhaps provided his most lasting memories, as well as finally being the man to first lift that elusive trophy on behalf of his province.
By going ahead with the match, it also affords Munster supporters their opportunity to pay their respects to Foley and commemorate his iconic playing and coaching career in the grandest of manners and on their favoured stages. This in turn may afford the Foley and Hogan families more of the intimacy and privacy which they need over the next few days, and particularly for tomorrow’s funeral, which they have asked be for family and friends.
The alternative would have been to return for the Pro12 game away to Ulster next Friday night, or the following week in the league against the Ospreys at Musgrave Park in Cork when those players involved in the Ireland-All Blacks game could not have played. As Erasmus also stated yesterday, there is no knowing when the squad will be available en bloc to play again after this weekend.
With doubts about Saturday’s game going ahead until Munster confirmed their intention to play the match as scheduled at lunchtime yesterday, having prioritised the needs of the Foley and Hogan families until then, ticket sales had reached 17,700. Presumably now, Thomond Park will be full again, as of yore.
Munster will pay tribute to their former player, captain, coach, and brother in the build-up to the game. The details of this have yet to be finalised, but are bound to incorporate Foley’s playing days at St Munchin’s and Shannon as well as Munster. The supporters will also now have a chance to celebrate his career in their own way as well.
It will be highly charged, highly emotional, very raw and an occasion tinged with incredible sadness. Spare a thought for Glasgow too. Remarkably, despite being two ever-presents in the competition, this will be the first time they’ll meet in the European Cup. But what was always going to be a unique contest has now assumed a meaning way beyond the importance of even this competition. Saturday cannot be an easy or normal occasion for them either.
The Munster players and management will play this game for Axel. The supporters will turn up for Axel. Heaven knows what kind of emotional stage the Munster players will be in for this game, but in many ways - no in all respects really - the result is secondary.