Anthony Foley Funeral: ‘Our boys will grow up decent, solid men, full of integrity and honesty, like their dad’

You have to wonder if the ancient hill of Killaloe had ever heard such beautiful words, so touchingly spoken.

Anthony Foley Funeral: ‘Our boys will grow up decent, solid men, full of integrity and honesty, like their dad’

As the soft autumn sun threw its light over St Flannan’s Church, Olive Foley opened up about the extent of her grief at the loss of her husband Anthony, and set the tone for the years and decades that are to follow.

As the crowd inside and outside the church listened intently, her eulogy for the man everyone else knew as Axel held us in a spell.

Olive spoke of her husband’s journey home from Paris, when he died so unexpectedly and tragically last Sunday, just hours before his Munster team were due to take the field. She told of the tributes paid to Anthony, of passing his beloved St Munchin’s secondary school, of “the homecoming he got coming through our town, and the candles and prayers”.

“It was absolutely beautiful,” she said, her voice breaking, as it did on more than one occasion. And a pause. “He would have absolutely hated the fuss.”

It wasn’t the only note of humour in a eulogy that referred to the Munster man’s integral role in his family and his community. Olive said her husband was someone full of surprises, a quiet man who was a great listener, “a ringer”, always on the phone back to base, invariably checking on his sons, Tony and Dan. Those boys, she said, will be raised so they grow up to be “decent, solid men of integrity and honesty, just like their dad”.

The funeral congregation was a who’s who of rugby royalty — Paul O’Connell, Tony Ward, Brian O’Driscoll, and Joe Schmidt among them — but have they ever heard a team talk carry such power, with its message of simple but honourable values, imbued in someone known across the rugby world and yet ever only the puck of a sliothar away from an amble around his home town?

A legend as a player, his tenure as coach hadn’t gone quite as well.

“The stones on the road know that the last two years have been very stressful for Anthony and Munster,” Olive said, “but he took that job as head coach and he gave it everything, the same passion he gave when he put on his jersey and won two Heineken Cups.”

Their idyllic life had been focussed on plans for the future — now altered irrevocably.

“The show will go on and I am going to stick to the plan because Anthony is going to be with us in spirit every step of the way,” she said.

Earlier, former teammates spoke of being shaken by the tragic passing of Axel, a man who lived a sporting life in technicolor, gone aged just 42. It prompts questions of mortality, or in some ways, immortality. In his homily, Fr Pat Malone said: “I’m fairly certain that even God could do with a top-class number 8.”

His own people in Killaloe and beyond would have liked to hold onto him for a while longer. The afterlife’s gain sure is an enormous earthly loss.

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