They’ve taken plenty of hits over the years, so it takes something seismic to make big men falter in their step. It seems that moment came yesterday,.
The visitors to Thomond Park came to pay tribute to their fallen brother, Munster head coach and playing legend Anthony Foley.
The number included men such as Paul O’Connell, Andrew Conway and Conor Murray — players used to navigating tight spots on the field of play. But, faced with the inexplicable loss of a 42-year-old in his prime, a loving husband and father, maybe this was one occasion where they wobbled.
Brian O’Driscoll had met his former Ireland teammate just the previous Friday at the funeral in Cork of Ann Kidney, wife of former Ireland and Munster coach, Declan Kidney.
Speaking on Newstalk radio last night, O’Driscoll described how Foley sat next to him at the service.
They had a catch-up and spoke about looking forward to a rugby-filled weekend.
“We met at the funeral and the next one is his funeral, I can’t get my head around that, 36 hours later,” O’Driscoll said.
He said it was “kind of unthinkable” that one of the real greats of Irish rugby was no more.
Locals in Foley’s home patch in Killaloe were hit by “numbness”, said councillor Tony O’Brien.
The Bishop of Limerick, Brendan Leahy, paid tribute to Foley’s heroism, on and off the field.
Referring to Foley’s wife Olive, sons Tony and Daniel, and his father, mother and sisters, Bishop Leahy said: “Rugby is mourning the loss of a hero but nowhere was he as big a hero, I’m sure, than in the Foley family home.”
Keith Woods’s voice quivered with emotion. “It doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “It’s just unbelievably disturbing.”
For his part, former teammate David Corkery said the news of Foley’s passing had impacted like “a sledgehammer”.
Funeral arrangements are yet to be finalised, but officials hope an autopsy can be completed as early as today, which would allow for the body to be brought home.
Local police in the Parisian suburb of Suresnes are investigating, although it was reported in France that this is routine following deaths in hotel rooms where the cause of death is not apparent.
What is apparent is the depth of the grief felt by rugby fans at home and abroad, with books of condolence opened at various venues across Munster.
In a statement issued on their behalf, Anthony Foley’s family paid tribute to “an amazing, adoring and loving father and husband; an equally caring, loyal and devoted son and brother” and a “hero”.
They said the grief they felt at his loss was “bottomless”.
“We know, too, that his sudden death has brought the rugby worlds of Shannon RFC, Munster, Ireland, and much further afield crashing down.
"You have lost a former player, coach, friend and all-round inspiration — your and our hero both. We mourn his loss together.
"We again wish to thank everyone for their support; it will help carry us through these darkest days.”
By all accounts, one famous Foley proclamation was that a warrior gets carried off the field on his shield.
They’re surely already preparing the armour back in Limerick, Cork, and Clare for this saddest and most unexpected of homecomings.