Anthony Foley: Thomond stands up and fights for Axel

When it seemed referee Jerome Garces had formally concluded the week-long obsequies for Anthony Foley with a shrill final whistle on Saturday, Axel’s comrades took to Thomond’s famed turf for one last farewell to one of the greats of Munster and Irish rugby.

Anthony Foley: Thomond stands up and fights for Axel

Moments after full time, the Munster team, coaching staff and mentors re-emerged to render a concluding Munster benediction which shook the stadiums iron girders.

Circled in the cente of the pitch, and embracing Anthony’s two sons, Tony and Dan, they belted out Stand Up and Fight in a tumultuous salute to one of their own.

Drained after a 38 to 17 demolition of Glasgow Warriors, the players mustered up enough energy to do a lap of the field to salute the fans for their support during what was a dark week.

Foley died in Paris last weekend, hours before Munster’s scheduled Champions Cup opener against Racing 92, which was subsequently postponed.

Before kick-off, fans in the West Stand held up placards which spelt out Foley’s nickname ‘Axel’ along with the number eight shirt, and all Munster’s playing shirts had ‘AXEL’ sewn on under the club crest.

The 40 members of the Munster Ruby Supporters Club Choir opened the tributes to Anthony Foley with the Fields of Athenry and the Shannon anthem There is an Isle.

Soprano Sinéad O’Brien from Patrickswell, who is a Bunratty Castle singer, had thousands of red flags dancing in on the terraces and in the stands with her rendition of Stand Up and Fight.

The crowd broke out into spontaneous applause when a tribute to Axel was shown on the big screen at the Ballynant end.

No matter where success took him, Anthony Foley was first and foremost a Shannon and St Munchin’s College man.

The school and the club provided a fitting guard of honour as the players emerged from the tunnel in the West stand.

Such was the scene, Munster and Ireland legend Donal Lenihan remarked: “You’d expect there wasn’t a game to be played there’s so much pageantry.”

Before the crowds left the stadium an almost eerie chant of ‘Munster, Munster, Munster’ went out over Limerick as a final farewell to Axel Foley.

CJ Stander, who played at Number 8, wore 24 as Axel’s old jersey was stood down for the day.

In a message to the fans, Gerry O’Shea, president of the Munster Branch of IRFU said: “Axel made a remarkable contribution to Munster Rugby in his short life on this Earth. We were lucky to have him and I am privileged to have known him.

“Anthony recently asked the people to come out and support Munster; that support has come out today.”

Team captain Peter O’Mahony paid a final tribute.

“I was lucky, I grew up following him around the place, even though he didn’t know it. And then to be allowed to come in and rub shoulders with guys like him. I learned a huge amount from him. I couldn’t pick just one thing, and I couldn’t just pick the rugby side of stuff. He was a man who wanted any Munster jersey to win at any cost.”

A half hour before the start of the game there was an anouncement that the special commemorative programmes had been sold out, but more would be ordered.

The printers had better stock up with oil tankers of ink.

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