Rugby fans gather as Anthony Foley’s remains brought home

Hearse pauses outside Thomond Park where shrine to late Munster coach has been built

Irish Times rugby correspondent Gerry Thornley speaks about former Munster and Ireland back row Anthony Foley, who passed away suddenly aged 42. Video: Second Captains/Inpho

 

Large crowds turned out to pay their respects when the body of Anthony Foley, the much-loved Munster Rugby head coach and former international player who died suddenly in Paris last Sunday at the age of 42, was returned to Limerick on Wednesday.

Up to 1,000 people gathered outside Thomond Park, Munster’s home ground, and about 400 were present at his former secondary school, St Munchin’s College.

The hearse, carrying his coffin from Shannon Airport to the Foley family home at Killaloe, stopped briefly outside the stadium and the school.

The remains had earlier being flown home from Paris on a Ryanair chartered flight with the number FR008 representing the number 8 jersey he had worn for Shannon, Munster and Ireland.

The hearse paused for four minutes outside Thomond Park where a shrine of Munster jerseys, scarfs, and flowers has been constructed since Sunday. Foley’s coffin was draped in a giant red Munster flag.

Guard of honour

Former teammates and friends from Shannon Rugby Club, flanked by members of the club’s boys and girls teams, stood in line as the hearse, accompanied by two Garda motorcycles, slowly approached the stadium.

Former Munster player and Shannon club president Noel “Buddha” Healy led the crowd in the singing of the club’s anthem There Is An Isle. As the hearse moved on, some fans wept and others applauded.

The hearse, followed by Foley’s wife Olive and their sons Tony and Daniel, continued slowly through the streets of his native Limerick towards his alma mater, St Munchin’s College. Students provided another guard of honour.

Foley’s body was released by the French authorities on Tuesday after a postmortem showed he had died from a build up of fluid in his lungs caused by a heart condition.

Huge crowds

His body will lie in repose at St Flannan’s Church, Killaloe, from 1pm to 8.30pm on Thursday. People intending to pay their respects have been advised to attend early as huge crowds are expected.

The funeral Mass will take place at noon on Friday in St Flannan’s, with the church reserved for family and friends. Members of Shannon Rugby Club will provide a guard of honour outside the church. “We are bereft, there is no doubt about that, but we want to honour him,” Shannon chairman John Leahy said.

Standing outside Thomond Park, Mr Leahy said: “He was probably one of the most resolute characters ever in our club . . . we probably didn’t realise it when he was younger. Afterwards, as he grew older, it was obvious he was destined for greatness.”

He said this greatness manifested itself in the winning of five All-Ireland league titles with Shannon.

“We would have won some of them, but not five, not if Anthony Foley hadn’t been on the team. He was the glue that kept it all together. He was a thinker, a very focused man.

Incredible reader

“He was always at the back of the scrum which would be edging 70 metres forward and his eyes would be darting left and right, and then he’d tap a teammate on the backside when he saw an opportunity for a score and the team would go forth. He was an incredible reader of the game. We loved him.”

Dave and Kay Culhane, from Woodview Park in Limerick, were among those outside Thomond Park.

“I’m a ‘Cookie’, a Young Munster supporter, and Foley, would probably laugh at me coming down here but all the clubs in Limerick respected Axel,” said Mr Culhane.

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