Munster prepare to remember Anthony Foley five years on from his untimely death

Former number eight’s family, friends and former team-mates will be at Thomond Park

Anthony Foley with the Heineken Cup after the victory over Biarritz in Cardiff in 2006. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Anthony Foley with the Heineken Cup after the victory over Biarritz in Cardiff in 2006. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

It’s hard to believe but next Saturday’s first interpro derby of the season between Munster and Connacht at Thomond Park also marks the fifth anniversary of Anthony Foley’s passing.

Time passes quickly indeed, but it is entirely apt and fitting that this poignant date coincides exactly with a competitive Munster match at the citadel which Foley graced on so many occasions, for St Munchin’s College, Shannon and Munster, and that supporters will be able to attend in significant numbers for only the third time since Covid restrictions were lifted.

Both the Foley family and the Munster family will be there in force. On behalf of the province, the Munster team manager Niall O’Donovan – himself a former Shannon and Munster ‘8’ of some repute who also coached the club’s four-in-a-row AIL-winning side of 1994-95 to 1997-98 of which Axel was a young star – Foley’s wife Olive and the two boys, Tony (now 16) and Dan (13), and the rest of the family, have been given tickets.

After lunch and a busy sporting day together, the entire extended Foley clan will also be there, Foley’s parents Brendan and Sheila, sisters Rosie and Orla, Rosie’s husband Pat and their three kids Oisín, Brendan and Siofra.

Munster intend to mark the occasion before kick-off with a picture of Foley on the big screen and a formal announcement of the anniversary, which is sure to generate a huge ovation from the Munster crowd in attendance.

Among them will be a sizeable contingent from Foley’s alma mater, St Munchin’s College, whose principal, David Quilter, admits: “It is hard to believe that its approaching five years since the great Anthony passed away. It was such an emotional and sad time – I don’t think that I have ever seen the school so shocked, saddened and at the same time so proud that we were such a large part of his shortened life.”

Tony junior is now in transition year and Dan is in second year at St Munchin’s.

“Both have developed wonderfully into two fine young men,” adds Quilter. “Both are making their own names and their own journey and legacy through the college. They have been supported terrifically by their mom Olive, who is a very active parent with the school and also by the Foley family. Grandad Brendan never, ever misses a school match, home or away.”

Ireland players face the Haka in a shape of eight in memory of Anthony Foley at Soldier Field in Chicago in 2016. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Ireland players face the Haka in a shape of eight in memory of Anthony Foley at Soldier Field in Chicago in 2016. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Foley’s former class-mates and team-mates, who won the Munster Schools Junior Cup with him as captain in 1989, marked the 30th anniversary of that triumph in tandem with the school by commissioning a special bronze sculpture of “Axel” which sits proudly in the school’s trophy cabinet in reception. “Centre stage of course,” says Quilter.

Tony junior also emulated his father when playing in the St Munchin’s team which won the Munster Schools Junior Cup in 2018, when the students created a banner of Foley which they displayed in front of the trophy.

The school will mark Saturday’s anniversary by doing a piece on the school Facebook page this weekend.

It would be apt, too, if at least one of the St Munchin’s College products in the Munster squad – Keith Earls, Dan Goggin or Conor Murray – were in Saturday’s team, although that seems unlikely in Murray’s case after his recent return to training following the Lions tour.

Shannon’s role in the week of Foley’s passing five years ago was hugely symbolic, but this coming Saturday their firsts are away to City of Armagh in Division 1B of the Energia All-Ireland League. The club intend to commemorate their former number eight, who played in all 48 games (44 of which they won) in that aforementioned four-in-a-row, captaining them to the fourth of those titles, at their next home game against Old Belvedere, on Saturday, October 30th, which coincides with Foley’s birthday.

His father Brendan is also heavily involved with the club again, and as a junior vice-president is set to become Munster Branch president in three years’ time.

Munster vs Racing 92 Munster players observe a moments applause for Anthony Foley at Thomond Park in 2017. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Munster vs Racing 92 Munster players observe a moments applause for Anthony Foley at Thomond Park in 2017. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

But, of course, in addition to winning 62 caps with Ireland, it was in his 201 games with Munster that Foley had perhaps his most iconic moment, when lifting the Heineken Cup trophy for the first time after the victory over Biarritz in the 2006 final in Cardiff. They had reached their Holy Grail, with one of the province’s greatest figureheads as captain.

Being afforded the opportunity to celebrate Axel’s memory is warmly welcomed by his family according to his sister Rosie.

“We’ve been at the home games so far this season and we’re all going to a pre-much lunch, including the kids,” says Rosie, whose son Oisín, and Tony junior, will be playing on the St Munchin’s team away to Rockwell today, while the younger set of cousins, Dan and Brendan, are playing Rockwell in the McCarthy Cup at home. Saturday will be busy, as Siofra has both a camogie and football match. But they’ll all be there.

“It’s good that we can all be together at a match in Thomond Park. There’s so much comfort and solace in sport, and all the camaraderie, craic and support connected with sport since Anthony has passed,” adds Rosie.

“There’s something very special about being at a match in Thomond Park or being out on the back pitch in St Munchin’s College or Coonagh, or wherever it is. I personally feel very connected, that he’s there, that he lives on, that kind of thing.

“Everything moves on, and sport moves on, but there’s something really nice about the way rugby is played, and connected, in Ireland, for sure, and those derby matches were always, and are always, really fantastic occasions.”

This one should be no different.

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