The rugby world is still trying to come to grips with the shocking and tragic death of Munster and Ireland legend, Anthony Foley, who passed away in October while in Paris with Munster for their Champions Cup clash with Racing 92.
While the details of that fateful day and the cause of death were made public in the days following Foley’s passing, little is known of the how, why, when and what, from the perspective of the Munster squad itself.
Now, in an interview with Donald McRae of the Guardian, Munster and Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray has revealed in heartbreaking detail the moment he and the squad learned of their friend’s passing.
“We woke up, had breakfast and at 11 o’clock we had our lineout walkthrough with the forwards.
“Axel is usually at that but there was no sign of him. The lads thought he’d slept in or forgotten the time-difference. Back at the hotel, before the pre-match meal, people were scurrying around. I remember seeing our physio holding the lift with his leg and saying: ‘The green bag, the green bag …’ It was his medical bag. Someone handed it to him and the lift went up.
“People started asking: ‘Where’s Axel?’ I said: ‘Man, I have a bad feeling here.’ An ambulance pulled up outside our hotel but they didn’t seem in a rush and that made it even more worrying.
Rassie Erasmus called us in. He was emotional and said: ‘Axel’s sick. I don’t know what’s happening yet.
“Twenty minutes later Niall O’Donovan [the team-manager] came down and just said it: ‘Axel passed.’
Some people cried. Some people walked out. It was surreal and chilling. I sat there and said: ‘Oh my God.’ I couldn’t believe it so I rang my dad. He was at the ground and they were all having beers. He could see other people finding out as news trickled through the crowd. The mood changed completely.
“We had six hours to wait for our flight so we went to a cafe and had a pint for Axel. What else do you do?
He had just died but we ended up laughing about things he did, which is natural. But Axel had been a big part of my life for seven years.”
Murray went on to recount the events following Munster’s Pro 12 encounter with Glasgow, only a day after they laid their head coach and friend to rest.
“The game against Glasgow, six days later, was when his two boys, Tony and Dan, joined the team in the huddle on the pitch.
“That was the moment I couldn’t stop myself crying. Really. The funeral had been the day before and, in the huddle, we sang [Stand Up and Fight]. It was chilling.
“I can feel it on my neck now. The crowd went silent and listened. You could feel how close everyone was in that moment.
“We were mourning together, sharing our grief and supporting each other. It was incredible – far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.”
In the weeks since Foley’s passing, Munster have honoured their colleague with a string of incredible performances on the field, performances saturated with heart, commitment, passion, all the traits representative of their late friend.
The impact of Foley’s death continues and will continue to affect the lives of many, most notably his wife and children, forever more. Coming to terms with such a loss will take each person affected on a different path. Munster have chosen to honour their coach, their friend, on the field.
The wider sporting community have honoured him in the last week by seeing him inducted into Ireland Sporting Hall of Fame. While these honours bestowed are fitting and a worthy tribute to the man, the gap he has left cannot be filled. Such is the tragedy of a life taken too soon.
Rest In Peace Axel.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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