Conor Murray has spoken of the profound impact the sudden death of Anthony Foley has had on him and the entire Munster squad.
Murray grew up idolising Foley and said it has been surreal since that fateful afternoon in Paris on October 16.
Speaking to The Guardian, the Irish scrum-half outlined in detail how events unfolded as players, preparing for a Champions Cup clash with Racing 92, learned of the death of a man who had shaped many of their careers.
“We woke up, had breakfast and our lineout walkthrough. Axel is usually at that but there was no sign. The lads thought he’d slept in or forgotten the time difference.
“Back at the hotel, people were scurrying around. I remember seeing our physio holding the lift with his leg and saying, ‘The green bag, the green bag…’ It was his medical bag.
“People started asking, ‘Where’s Axel?’
“I said, ‘Man, I have a bad feeling here.’ An ambulance pulled up but they didn’t seem in a rush, that made it more worrying.
“Rassie Erasmus called us in. He was emotional and said, ‘Axel’s sick. I don’t know what’s happening.’
“Twenty minutes later Niall O’Donovan came down and said, ‘Axel passed.’ Some cried, some walked out. It was surreal and chilling.
“I sat there and said, ‘Oh my God.’ I couldn’t believe it, I rang my dad. He was at the ground. He could see other people finding out.
“The mood changed. We had six hours to wait for our flight, we went to a cafe and had a pint for Axel. What else do you do?”
Murray said it took some time for the death of the 42-year-old coach to hit home.
“It was only later in the week that it really hit me,” he told The Guardian. “The game against Glasgow, six days later, was when his two boys, Tony and Dan, joined the team in the huddle on the pitch. That was the moment I couldn’t stop myself crying.
“The funeral had been the day before and, in the huddle, we sang ‘Stand Up and Fight’. It was chilling. I can feel it on my neck now. The crowd went silent and listened. You could feel how close everyone was in that moment.
“We were mourning together, sharing our grief and supporting each other. It was incredible — far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.”
Many of the Munster squad had come through the ranks with Foley and know while life goes on, it will never be the same.
“When you lose someone, you go, ‘Let’s really take life for what it is and enjoy every day.’ After a while you forget and just go back to worrying about things. But Axel’s been dead more than two months and it’s still there for me. Little things don’t stress me anymore. It’s had a profound impact and you learn new things.
“I didn’t know much about his family life until I went to see Olive and the kids. They have a beautiful home in Killaloe, overlooking the lake, with a wood at the back. Home was the most important thing. He used to ring Olive 15 times a day — which amazed me. I said, ‘What?’ I couldn’t believe it because Axel would barely utter a word to you in the morning,” said Murray, 27. .
Munster dealt with their grief by doing what they do best, heading off on a seven-match winning run that leaves them in a strong position to reach the knockout stages of the Champions Cup.
“When death happens you can usually process it. But with Axel I feel he should be here. For a couple of weeks there was so much attention on his death and an outpouring of sympathy. It was beautiful. But now everyone is carrying on — which is strange but natural. Axel would want us to carry on. He continues to inspire us.”
Murray returned to the Ireland camp after the Glasgow game and prepared for the All Blacks. Axel wasn’t forgotten in Chicago and their figure of 8 response to the haka, before their historic 40-29 victory at Solider Field, added another layer of emotion to an unforgettable occasion.
“At first the crowd didn’t know what it was, but you could hear recognition spreading. Johnny Sexton and Joe Schmidt said, ‘Let’s get the Munster lads at the front.’ I was at one front with CJ Stander at the other. I didn’t have anyone around me and was looking at the haka and going, ‘Aaargh! You’re on your own.’ But you could sense the crowd feeling it. It gave us a big lift.”
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