‘He’ll always be alive in my heart... I just don’t want to let him go’

Hardened Munster men, more used to roaring on their rugby heroes into battle, openly wept outside the hallowed turf of Thomond Park at the loss of their leader, friend, and comrade “Axel” Foley.

The sports-ground cauldron, which echoes the famous roar of the home fans on match day remained silent again as fathers and sons and mothers and daughters mourned at the shrine of jerseys, scarves and hats, left at the gates of the stadium, in memory of the Munster head coach.

The legendary Noel “Buddha” Healy, President of Shannon Rugby Club, who also wore the Munster red jersey, wept as he paid a heartfelt tribute to Foley, who won five All-Ireland Championships with the Limerick club.

Breaking down, the 57-year old said: “He’ll always be alive in my heart. He was a very very good friend, and I just don’t want to let him go. Words can’t say it...I miss him.”

Releasing a long take in of breath, he added: “He’ll always be a part of this club, and for as long as I breath Anthony Foley’s name will be synonymous with this club, I promise you that...He was a legend. As a player, and off the field, he was huge, a superb guy. He was a man that I looked up to, even though I was a lot older than him. He instilled that respect in players.”

Healy was driving on an errand last Sunday when he received the news.

“I nearly crashed the van. I just broke down. I cried and cried. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Anthony was out walking around Paris with the lads, not on the beer, but chilling out before the big match. He went up to bed and missed breakfast the following morning. The boys made a joke that he was looking for a lie-in. But, a little later, when he didn’t show, someone was summoned to go to his room to get him up... It’s not right, he was only 42 years of age. He was a fit man, he went to bed thinking about a European Cup game, planning the downfall of Racing Metro and his good friend Ronan O’Gara, and then not to be here the next day. It’s so unreal.”

He said he and his wife spent the day with Foley’s mother Sheila, at her home in Killaloe, Co Clare.

“To see Sheila Foley — I can empathise, because I lost my son-in-law to cancer two and a half years ago.

“Sheila is a lost soul and I know Brendan will absolutely be lost without Anthony. Our condolences at Shannon Rugby Club have to be passed onto the family. It’s wrong...It’s all wrong.”

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