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Thomond Park turned into shrine for Anthony Foley as fans pay their respects

Published 17/10/2016

Munster Rugby fans place tributes outside Thomond Park in Limerick after the death of head coach Anthony Foley. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Munster Rugby fans place tributes outside Thomond Park in Limerick after the death of head coach Anthony Foley. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Munster Rugby fans place tributes outside Thomond Park in Limerick after the death of head coach Anthony Foley. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Munster Rugby queue to sign a book of condolances at Shannon Rugby Club in Thomond Park, Limerick, after the death of head coach Anthony Foley. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Tributes outside Thomond Park in Limerick placed by Munster Rugby fans after the death of head coach Anthony Foley.Niall Carson/PA Wire
Tributes outside Thomond Park in Limerick placed by Munster Rugby fans after the death of head coach Anthony Foley. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Munster Rugby fans place tributes outside Thomond Park in Limerick after the death of head coach Anthony Foley. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Tributes outside Thomond Park in Limerick placed by Munster Rugby fans after the death of head coach Anthony Foley. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Tributes outside Thomond Park in Limerick placed by Munster Rugby fans after the death of head coach Anthony Foley. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Munster Rugby fans place tributes outside Thomond Park in Limerick after the death of head coach Anthony Foley. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Munster Rugby fans place tributes outside Thomond Park in Limerick after the death of head coach Anthony Foley. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Tributes outside Thomond Park in Limerick placed by Munster Rugby fans after the death of head coach Anthony Foley. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Players stand for a minutes silence in memory of Munster head coach and former Irish international Anthony Foley who died today in a Paris hotel during the European Rugby Champions Cup rugby union match between Exeter Chiefs and Clermont Auvergne at Sandy Park Stadium in Exeter, south west England, on October 16, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Geoff CADDICKGEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken on October 16, 2016 shows a Munster flag and flowers hanging at the grid of the Yves du Manoir stadium in Colombes, outside Paris, in tribute to Munster head coach Anthony Foley who died suddenly. Munster head coach Anthony Foley died suddenly in Paris on Sunday, at the age of 42, causing the Irish province's European Champions Cup match against Racing 92 to be postponed. / AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
EXETER, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 16: A minutes silence is held in memory of Munster Head Coach Anothony Foley who passed away at the age of 42 during the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Exeter Chiefs and ASM Clermont Auvergne at Sandy Park on October 16, 2016 in Exeter, United Kingdom. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 16: Munster fans place flowers and flags as a mark of respect after hearing of the news of the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley prior to the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Racing 92 and Munster at Stade Yves-Du-Manoir on October 16, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 16: Munster fans sign a book of condolence after hearing of the news of the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley prior to the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Racing 92 and Munster at Stade Yves-Du-Manoir on October 16, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 16: Munster fans sing the Munster anthem, The Fields of Anthenry as a mark of respect after hearing of the news of the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley prior to the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Racing 92 and Munster at Stade Yves-Du-Manoir on October 16, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 16: A Munster fan signs a book of condolence after hearing of the news of the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley prior to the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Racing 92 and Munster at Stade Yves-Du-Manoir on October 16, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 16: Match officials, including the referee Wayne Barnes (R) look dejected after hearing of the news of the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley prior to the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Racing 92 and Munster at Stade Yves-Du-Manoir on October 16, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 16: Munster fans in tears after hearing of the news of the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley prior to the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Racing 92 and Munster at Stade Yves-Du-Manoir on October 16, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 16: Munster fans take part in a minutes applause as a mark of respect after hearing of the news of the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley prior to the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Racing 92 and Munster at Stade Yves-Du-Manoir on October 16, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 16: Munster fans console each other after hearing of the news of the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley prior to the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Racing 92 and Munster at Stade Yves-Du-Manoir on October 16, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 16: Munster fans tie Munster flags to the railings of the stadium after hearing of the news of the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley prior to the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Racing 92 and Munster at Stade Yves-Du-Manoir on October 16, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 16: A Munster fan signs a book of condolence after hearing of the news of the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley prior to the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Racing 92 and Munster at Stade Yves-Du-Manoir on October 16, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 16: Munster fans sign a book of condolence after hearing of the news of the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley prior to the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Racing 92 and Munster at Stade Yves-Du-Manoir on October 16, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Seasoned Munster fan Anna O'Neill was pushed up to the gates of Thomond Park in a wheelchair to pin a souvenir T-shirt among the hundreds of tributes to Anthony Foley.

"I've never missed a home or away match in all these years. It's very emotional, for me, especially," she said.

Ms O'Neill wore a red beret covered with emblems and badges from her travels as she offered her memento from the province's never-say-die win over Toulouse in 2000.

"I was a Shannon fan. I came from the St Mary's Parish. Rugby is our life. So sad, so sad. Oh my God, is all I can say," Ms O'Neill said.

The blue gates at Thomond quickly became a shrine to Foley in the hours after his death.

Tears welled in the eyes of hardened rugby men, players from the Munster squad stood in quiet reflection and mothers spoke of their empathy for a young family left without a treasured father.

Talk fleetingly turned to what would make a fitting tribute for Foley - a plaque, a stand named in his honour, a statue or allowing his coffin to lie in state inside the stadium.

Pat Ryan, 47, who can hear the roar of the Red Army at his nearby house , said: "Obviously it's up to the family but they should bring him into the stadium."

A regular match-goer, Mr Ryan tried to compose himself as he took in the dozens of flowers, shirts, flags and poems covering the gates.

"It was just the way he played. To me, he left everything on the pitch," he said.

"He had a bit of genius. He was not the quickest but he had the quickest brain. He was the most intelligent player to have come out of Ireland.

"But he was a local. He was Limerick through and through."

Others came to sign a book of condolence in the Shannon Rugby Club, next door to Thomond.

Some made a point of buying tickets for the province's next match, against Glasgow on Saturday.

Nuala Corbett clasped hers in her hand and looked up to the sky as a steady stream of fans took time to reflect on their loss.

"I'll always remember the Heineken Cup, the first, and someone of the players brought his baby out on to the pitch because he'd been sick. He'd just after come out of the hospital," she said.

"It was lovely, a great gesture.

"He was always very quiet and a private person but a gentleman, a beautiful person behind it all. He didn't show it but he was a lovely person."

David Kelly, originally from Clare and Munster fan through and through, drove from Dublin to Limerick to pin a flag on the gates of the stadium.

"It's hard," he said, close to tears.

"He had the heart of a lion. When others were getting the headlines, Anthony was just getting down to it."

Tom Galvin, 53, shared stories of Foley's early rugby days with St Munchin's and the No 8 leading all over the pitch under the watchful eye of his father and coach Brendan.

"He could play anywhere then," he said.

"He took the conversions, penalties, touch kicks. He called the line outs, the scrums."

Mr Galvin pointed to the many crests and shirts on the gates and said Foley encapsulated Munster's heart and soul.

"I suppose he was the heart of the stag. Or Maybe he was the antlers on the stag - the heartbeat of rugby in Shannon and Munster," he said.

"He was probably one of the best ambassadors that you could have in any sport. He had respect on and off the pitch."

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