Munster Rugby players and fans pay tribute to Anthony Foley as body flown home


Players, staff and fans of Munster Rugby have held an emotional homecoming for Irish rugby great Anthony Foley who died last weekend.

The remains of the head coach were brought to Thomond Park in Limerick for a final farewell for the much-loved No 8.

Foley, 42, died suddenly in the team hotel in Paris, just hours before his side were due to play Racing 92 in the European Champions Cup.

After his body was flown in from France, a hearse made the slow journey to the heart of Munster Rugby before travelling to his home town, Killaloe, Co Clare, where he will be laid to rest on Friday.

Older members of Foley's club, Shannon, formed a guard of honour as younger members looked on in silence.

As Foley's remains edged past the makeshift shrine on the gates of Thomond the hundreds who turned out to pay their respects burst into an impromptu song and applause.

Munster Rugby announced they will go ahead with their next game this weekend, against Glasgow Warriors, less than 24 hours after Foley's funeral.

Foley died from a build-up of fluid on his lungs as a result of heart disease.

Munster captain Peter O'Mahony broke down as he tried to put into words what the late coach meant to him and the club, adding that he could not do him justice.

"You can't put that into words," he said.

"The amount that we have lost now that he has gone is incredible - the rugby knowledge and brain, the man and the friend and coach and brother that we have lost. It's mad."

A funeral Mass for Foley takes place in St Flannan's Church in Killaloe on Friday.

He will lie in repose in the church for most of Thursday to give members of the public a chance to pay their respects.

Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus said the decision to go ahead with Saturday's afternoon kick-off in Thomond was tough but also an opportunity not to be missed.

"He would never want us to say that the game is secondary, it's just not the man he was, but it will be," Erasmus said.

"It's all about Anthony, now, and this weekend, and will be for a long time."

The South African coach added: "It's difficult. I know the players had so much respect for him that they are trying to get on with it, trying to do the job the way we think and know Anthony would want us to go on with it.

"That's what drives us and makes us committed to get a proper performance out there."

Erasmus said that Thomond held a special place in "Axel" Foley's heart.

And he tried to put the loss into perspective as Munster players took to the training pitch for the first time since the tragedy.

He said: "Although an Irish and Munster rugby hero and a great friend of ours, this time it's about a husband, father, son and brother, and a fallen friend.

"Let us not forget that."