Anthony Foley left 'indelible, affirming marks', mourners told at funeral for Ireland rugby great
Irish rugby star Anthony Foley has been remembered at his funeral for the warm, indelible marks he left on life.
The Munster head coach died, aged 42, in a hotel in Paris, just hours before the team were due to play Racing 92 in the European Champions Cup last Sunday.
His coffin was carried into St Flannan's Church in his home town of Killaloe in Co Clare to the Toreador Song from Bizet's opera Carmen, adopted by Munster Rugby for the club's anthem Stand Up And Fight.
Players from the province, past and present, formed a guard of honour inside the church grounds.
Among them were former Irish and Munster stars Paul O'Connell, Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer, along with ex-Ireland team-mate Brian O'Driscoll.
Hundreds of other mourners packed into the church and surrounding streets.
Foley is survived by widow Olive and sons Tony and Dan.
In a moving homily, Father Pat Malone, a family friend, spoke about Foley with glowing sentiment.
"It is fitting that we celebrate with dignity the life and achievements of a man who lived life with great dignity and personal and professional integrity," he said.
The priest said his personal, lasting memory of the rugby great was as a family man.
"His family meant all to him," he said.
"Olive, you were his true love, and how good you were together.
"One could sense the strength of your relationship, the warmth of your love for each other, and the ways you supported each other through the easy as well as the difficult moments of life.
"You complimented each other so well, yin and yang in perfect valve with each other.
Fr Malone said the couple were second to none as parents and spoke about Foley's love for his children.
"He was silently assessing their temperament for future sporting engagement."
In some of the most moving tributes, the priest praised Foley's open-hearted nature.
"What touched me most in all the statements I heard or read about Anthony in the past week is the amount of care he offered to so, so many different people," he said.
"He had that great human capacity to sense or notice those who were struggling in one way or another and the ability to reach out to them and include them in a sensitive and caring way.
"That outreach made all the difference to these people.
"He offered people hope when they felt hopeless, confidence when they were deflated and simply wished them on when they were unable to do it themselves."
Fr Malone added: "His presence was reassuring, his ability to care, his sheer support, his sense of camaraderie, made all the difference and - to borrow from from another famous football anthem - knowing Anthony's presence, you knew 'You'll never walk alone'.
"Anthony 'Axel' Foley made many a mark in his 42 short years of life.
"Just look around and see; the indelible, warm, affirming marks he left in family, friends, colleagues, sports fans, this local community, rugby wherever it is spoken."
Fr Malone referenced the "incomprehensible darkness" Foley's widow had spoken of since his death.
He said Foley's love should shine a light on the family's grief.
In a brief moment of levity, he added: "I am fairly certain God could do with a top-class Number 8."
Foley died from a build-up of fluid on his lungs as a result of heart disease.
On the rugby field he was a record-breaker with Munster and an integral part of their two Heineken Cup wins in the last decade.