Anthony Foley's family plunged into darkness after rugby hero's sudden death
T he family of Irish rugby great Anthony Foley has said his death has plunged them into incomprehensible darkness.
As hundreds of fans and friends paid their respects at the home of Munster Rugby in Limerick, the Foleys said they deeply appreciated the huge outpouring of support and sympathy.
The 42-year-old head coach was found dead in the province's team hotel in Paris on Sunday, hours before the team were due to take to the pitch in the European Champions Cup.
"With Anthony's passing, we have ultimately lost an amazing, adoring and loving father and husband; an equally caring, loyal and devoted son and brother; a central and go-to figure for the wider Foley and Hogan families," the family said.
"Our anguish at the sudden loss of Anthony is bottomless.
"We have been plunged deep into an incomprehensible darkness and sense of loss that we must work our way through over the coming days, weeks, months and years."
The family revealed the depth of their griefs as queues formed across Munster and further afield for people to sign books of condolences.
Irish flags were lowered to half-mast and a minute's silence was observed in Limerick courthouse.
From midday, people began to pay respects across Limerick, Clare, Cork, Kerry, Tipperary and Waterford and at Limerick University and Shannon Rugby Club, and the Irish rugby headquarters.
The Foleys said they knew that the No 8's death brought the rugby worlds of Shannon RFC, Munster, Ireland and 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," the family said.
"We again wish to thank everyone for their support; it will help carry us through these darkest days."
Foley is survived by his wife, Olive, and their two sons.
Nicknamed "Axel", he was a quick-thinking back-row and fan favourite.
His canny approach to the game ensured he was a record-breaking try-scorer in his days in the red jersey and took him to 62 caps for Ireland.
Foley followed in his father Brendan's footsteps, and ultimately emulated him, leading Munster to their first European Cup victory in 2006 and a repeat success within a couple of years.
Among those who signed a message of sympathy in Limerick was David Quilter, principal of St Munchin's College where Foley's rugby career was grounded.
He never forgot his roots, returning to the school at least once a year, as a role model or simply to show his face.
"He was a legend. He's gone out of St Munchin's for 25 years and yet every student knew Anthony," Mr Quilter said.
"He gave regular talks to our cup sides and was always more comfortable in the dressing room than the staff room.
"A man of actions, moreso than a man of words. He just carried himself so professionally, (he was) such an influence on a lot of young fellas over the last 30 years."
A makeshift shrine appeared at the gates of Thomond Park, home of Munster Rugby, where Foley had some of his finest performances.
Leanne Healy, a family friend who grew up with Foley, fought tears after signing the book of condolences.
She said: "He was just a gentle giant. He was just so much in rugby but he was just an amazing person for people who knew him.
"My whole family are devastated. Our thoughts just go out to his family and the whole community.
"He was like a brother to me, with all the lads growing up. It's just shell shocking.
"He was just an amazing father, husband, friend, rugby player."
The Irish Rugby Football Union flag also flew at half mast on Lansdowne Road in Dublin.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said: "Over the past few seasons I've had the opportunity to work closely with Axel. His insights on the game and good-natured banter ensured he was always great company."