Proud To Be Irish: Looking Back On The Last Month In Rugby Following Anthony Foley’s Passing
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It’s been almost a month since we learned of the tragic passing of Anthony Foley.
Over 200 caps for Munster and over 60 for Ireland, the former head coach and captain was tragically found dead in his hotel room as he prepared his side for their opening round Champions Cup clash with Racing 92 last month.
The news sent shivers around the rugby world and left an entire nation heartbroken. What has happened since however is nothing short of remarkable. Irish people while devastated by his passing, can look back on the weeks that followed his passing with great pride.
It began with flowers and memorabilia laid in front of Thomond Park as a province tried to come to terms with the loss of their hero, their captain, their coach. The day before his funeral a hearse stopped outside Thomond Park, so he could say his final goodbyes. Thousands of people turned out as ‘There is an Isle’ echoed around Limerick. The following day his body was laid to rest as TENS of thousands turned out in his native Killaloe to pay their final respects.
Then it was time for some rugby. A sold-out Thomond Park witnessed one of the most chilling Munster performance’s in recent memory as they laid Glasgow to the sword. The Fields of Athenry could be heard from miles around as Munster became united once again. A fitting send-off to a true legend of the game.
That night Ulster sent shivers around the Kingspan with their own rousing rendition of the Fields as they paid respect to a fallen giant, they had so many times faced in the past. Then it was over to Leinster who came out for their Champions Cup tie wearing red with the number eight emblazoned on their t-shirts. A truly remarkable moment.
Western province, Connacht opened up a book of condolences at the Sportsground, while delaying the huge announcements that Bundee Aki and Ultan Dillane had signed new deals with the province, as a mark of respect to the late Foley.
The following week Munster and Ulster treated us to a thrilling affair in Belfast, revealing a wonderful plaque in honour of Foley and even enjoyed a few beers with the Munster lads in the changing rooms afterwards.
Then came this past weekend. The first time Ireland has set foot on a pitch since Foley’s untimely death and what a truly special moment it was, befitting of the man. As the All Blacks faced the men in green and prepared to unleash their famous Haka, Ireland stood tall and lined up in a figure of eight in front of them, in honour of the late back-row, with the Munster players proudly standing to the front.
Ireland then did what many thought was impossible. They ended a 111-year wait and finally defeated New Zealand. The sheer will and desire that was evident on Saturday, was no doubt driven by Foley’s loss. Munster back-row, CJ Stander admitted that Foley gave him that extra edge in Soldier Field, helping drive Ireland over the finish line.
The entire rugby world has been fantastic since the tragic news with several team across Europe honouring the late Shannon man. Scarlets wore eight on their jerseys, while Clermont Auvergne raised red flags in his honour.
Ireland however, can especially look back on this past few weeks with great pride. It’s players, coaches, teams and fans have paid wonderful tribute to the man and have done it in the classiest of fashions, and in a way that Anthony Foley would be damn proud of. #RIPAxel