The Boeing 737-700 jet, which had been offered to the Foley family for the repatriation flight, left Shannon at 12.55pm carrying around 25 of Foley’s relatives, along with former teammates and personal friends, Paul O’Connell and Mick Galwey, as well as as well as senior Munster Rugby executives.
That flight was given the special call sign FR-1973 — denoting Anthony’s birth year.
The call sign for the return was equally as significant. FR-8 represented the number 8 jersey that the back row wore for his beloved Munster and for Ireland.
As the flight was travelling to Paris to bring the rugby legend home, one of the game’s new generation of back row forwards, Peter O’Mahony, fought a tough battle with his emotions to put into words just what the coach’s death meant to him and his club.
After bravely composing himself he said: “The amount that we have lost now that he has gone is incredible — the rugby knowledge and brain, the man and the friend and coach and brother that we have lost... It’s mad.”
Speaking at at a press conference to confirm that, despite their grief, the squad and management will press ahead with this weekend’s Champions Cup tie against Glasgow, the distraught captain said: “I’m not going to do him justice here. It’s all the words I can say, to be honest.”
The club’s director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, said of this weekend’s game: “He [Foley] would never want us to say the game is secondary — it’s not the man he was — but it will be. It’s all about Anthony now and this weekend. It will be for a long time raw, so it will be about Anthony.
“Although an Irish and Munster rugby hero and a great friend of ours, this time it’s about a husband, father, son, and brother, and a fallen friend. Let us not forget that,” he added.
Yet further evidence of the high regard in which Foley and Munster are held across the rugby world came with news that fans of fellow rugby club stalwart Clermont Auvergne, who have their own Champions Cup match against Bordeaux this weekend, have called on all Clermont supporters to wear Munster flags and colours to the game.
Team Jaunes&Bleu said the “red army” had a special place in the hearts of the supporters of the “yellow army”.
“We have all been touched by the death of Anthony Foley, the coach of Munster,” they said. “In order to show our support to our Irish friends, we invite you to come to the Michelin with a scarf or a flag of Munster [for those who possess one] during the game on Saturday.”
A minute's silence or minute's applause for Anthony Foley will be observed at all Round 2 matches in the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup pic.twitter.com/ti96dW2tNF— PA Sport (@pasport) October 19, 2016
They published a printout of the Munster flag for those who did not have any Munster paraphernalia to print out and bring to their game.