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Munster Rugby coach Anthony Foley honoured in moving tribute after sudden death


Munster's Head Coach Anthony Foley, who has died at the team hotel in Paris

Munster's Head Coach Anthony Foley, who has died at the team hotel in Paris

Munster's Head Coach Anthony Foley, who has died at the team hotel in Paris

Rugby great Anthony Foley has been remembered as a gifted player and the embodiment of Munster Rugby after his sudden death.

The 42-year-old head coach was found dead in the province's team hotel in Paris hours before their European Champions Cup clash.

The game against Racing 92 was called off but Foley's death was marked by a touching tribute at the Stade Yves-du-Manoir where a scarf, wreath and cap was left on the centre of the empty pitch.

Outside the stadium in Colombes, hundreds of Munster and French fans marked Foley's passing with an impromptu minute's silence and a rendition of the Fields of Athenry.

President Michael D Higgins said Foley was one of the great leaders and figures of modern Irish sport.

"He was regarded with great respect and deep affection not just among the Munster rugby fans but by all those interested in Irish sports and those with whom they interacted abroad," the president said.

"Axel" Foley, a back-row and fan favourite No 8, was a record breaking try scorer in his days in the red jersey.

He followed his father Brendan's footsteps and ultimately emulated his legendary on-pitch success.

Foley played for Ireland 62 times, scoring a try against England on his debut in 1995 in the Five Nations, as it was then.

He also led Munster to their first European Cup victory in 2006 after years of heartbreak in top flight competition. Two years later he was central to the province's repeat success with many stirring and passionate performances.

Foley scored 39 tries for his province and made 86 appearances in European competition before taking on back room roles from 2009 and being named head coach in 2014.

He is survived by his wife Olive and their children.

Munster Rugby chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald said Foley was a true rugby great and the embodiment of Munster Rugby.

"Widely known for his extensive knowledge of the game and rugby brain, Axel brought so much to the province as a player and then a coach," he said.

"A very popular figure off the field, he was an incredibly likeable character with a great sense of humour and he lived life to the full."

Mr Fitzgerald added: "Never a man to back down from a challenge, Anthony's determination on the field was mirrored by his actions off it, always honest in everything he did. His legacy will live on in the next generation and beyond."

Foley was from Killaloe in Clare.

He played for St Munchin's and Shannon in his early years but was destined for Munster red and to follow his father Brendan who was part of the team that defeated the All Blacks in 1978.

Munster Rugby added: "It is with great sadness that we bid farewell to our coach, former captain, colleague and friend today, rest in peace Anthony Foley."

Foley was roundly praised for his ability to read the game of rugby in his role as a No 8, his intelligence on the field and his understated attitude.

In a mark of the shock that followed the news of Foley's death and the affection with which he was held, Munster fans in Paris also queued to leave messages of condolences on a makeshift memorial at the ground.

In Limerck's Thomond Park, the home of Munster Rugby, jerseys, flowers, scarves and hats were left at the gates as supporters paid respects.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "Anthony was a legendary figure in Munster and Irish rugby. It is tragic to lose such a fantastic man at such a young age."