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Anthony Foley’s family speak of ‘bottomless anguish’

Tributes to Anthony Foley at Thomond Park last night

Tributes to Anthony Foley at Thomond Park last night

The family of 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."

Books of condolence for Anthony Foley open around the country

Anthony Foley during a press event earlier this year

Anthony Foley during a press event earlier this year

Tributes to Anthony Foley outside Thomond Park last night

Tributes to Anthony Foley outside Thomond Park last night

Rugby fans and members of the public are paying personal tributes to former Ireland and Munster star Anthony Foley.

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.

As messages of sympathy flooded in from across the world of sport and further afield, books of condolence were being opened across Munster and Irish flags were lowered to half-mast.

From midday, the public can pay respects in council offices across Limerick, Clare, Cork, Kerry, Tipperary and Waterford and at Limerick University and Shannon Rugby Club.

A makeshift shrine was also formed at the gates of Thomond Park, home of Munster Rugby, where Foley had some of his finest performances.

"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 in his father Brendan's footsteps and ultimately emulated his 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. Within a couple of years he was central to the province's repeat success.

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

He is survived by his wife, Olive, and their children.

Among the grief-stricken messages posted online in the wake of Foley's death were some from former Munster teammates.

Record-breaking Ireland No 10 Ronan O'Gara wrote: "Alone on the couch with Jess. Heartbroken. We have lost an incredible man. Too sad to tweet further … sleep well Axel. We love you. xxx."

Peter Stringer, the diminutive scrum half who has a photo of him and Foley in their Ireland heyday, said: "Feeling numb and alone with only thoughts of this remarkable man. My protector on the field, I will miss you forever Axel."

Ronan O’Gara pays emotional tribute to Anthony Foley

Foley and O'Gara chat after a Munster training session in December last year

Foley and O’Gara chat after a Munster training session in December last year

Irish rugby player Ronan O’Gara said he is “heartbroken” at the tragic passing of Munster rugby coach Anthony Foley.

O'Gara took to Twitter to mourn the Irish rugby legend saying "we have lost an incredible man. Too sad to tweet further. Sleep well Axel. We love you."

Alone on the couch with Jess.Heartbroken.We have lost an incredible man. Too sad to tweet further.. sleep well Axel. We love you..xxx

— Ronan O Gara (@RonanOGara10) October 16, 2016

Thousands of mourners have paid tribute to the Munster coach Anthony Foley (42) who died suddenly in France on Saturday night.

Munster were in Paris to play Racing 92 in the Champions Cup today and that clash has been postponed.

A book of condolences has been opened for thousands to remember the sporting legend.

Rugby commentator Tom McGurk said: "It was a great leader – he was the heart and soul of that Munster team. It's absolutely shocking.

"A great great Munster rugby family – his father Brendan played for Ireland, his sister Rosie played for the Ireland women team.

"He went from captaincy to coaching of Munster. The whole rugby family of Ireland and across Europe is in mourning.

"My deepest sympathies to his wife and young children.

""He was a tremendous leader and a massive, massive loss to Irish rugby.

"He was always very friendly, always up for a bit of craic. Always at the heart of it and had huge respect and was a really hard man in his physicality and in his attitude.

"I think he brought to that Munster pack a sense of steel and a sense of strength and naturally he emerged as a leader and when he captained the Irish side as well he brought that same leadership.

"He died in a hotel in Paris. Munster were there playing this afternoon against Racing. It's ironic that the team coach there is Ronan O'Gara, a close friend on that team."

Mourners are being asked to wear Munster colours on Monday to remember rugby legend Anthony Foley.

Big test ahead for Irish provinces as Champions Cup kicks off

A tough competition awaits for the four Irish provinces, including for former winners Munster and Leinster

A tough competition awaits for the four Irish provinces, including for former winners Munster and Leinster

PERHAPS the starkest illustration of the depressing post-boom reality for Irish rugby will present itself in Paris on Sunday.

Munster, the club defined by European competition, and Ronan O’Gara, for so long their talisman, will both be at the Stade Yves-Du-Manoir as the Champions Cup kicks-off.

Sadly, they will be on opposite sides of the battlefield, with O’Gara a key figure in the coaching staff of French champions, Racing Metro.

O’Gara may be the Irish star most likely to enjoy a taste of European glory.

After a cataclysmic 2015/16 campaign, Ireland’s four clubs return to Champions Cup fare with ambitions hugely downgraded from the glory days.

Here are some of the key issues on the eve of another European season.
 
What are the chances of an Irish winner?

Slimmer than an emaciated supermodel.  The golden age of Irish club rugby – five Heineken Cup wins in seven seasons between 2006 and 2012 – is a rapidly disappearing dot in the rear-view mirror.  

TV money has poured into England and France, meaning the days of Irish clubs luring the biggest names from Down Under are in the past. The new reality really hit home last season when, for the first time since 1998, no Irish side qualified for the knockout stages.
 
Surely that won’t happen again?

A look at the bookmakers’ odds are revealing.  Three-time former champions Leinster are best priced of the Irish at 22/1. Ulster and Munster are available at 40/1, with Pro 12 champions Connacht a whopping 100/1.   

For those who prefer the glass half-full approach, Leicester were 5,000/1 shots to win last season’s Premier League.  Miracles do happen.
 
So, Leinster are Ireland’s best hope?

Maybe. The addition of former England coach Stuart Lancaster to the backroom ticket is a positive move. Rob Henshaw is poised for a belated debut, while much – as ever – will depend on the form and fitness of Jonny Sexton. 

They have avoided all the superpowers with what looks a favourable opener against Castres at the RDS next weekend.  

Challenge Cup champions Montpellier have made a bright start in the French Top14, while Northampton will look to Wales and Lions wing George North for fireworks.
 
Will Munster fans be upbeat?

Not after listening to their Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus declare Munster the weakest link in Pool One. The Red Army will have the strange sensation of seeing their legendary out-half Ronan O’Gara in the opposition corner next weekend.  

Munster face a daunting trip to Paris on Sunday.  Leicester, like Munster, might not be the all-conquering force of old, but like the fourth Pool One side, Glasgow, they remain dangerous. On the plus side, the inspirational Peter O’Mahony, out since the World Cup, returned last week after a year on the sideline.


WEEKEND FIXTURES IN THE IRISH POOLS

POOL 1

MUNSTER, GLASGOW, LEICESTER, RACING

FRIDAY (7.45) GLASGOW V LEICESTER; SUNDAY (3.15) RACING V MUNSTER

POOL 2

CONNACHT, TOULOUSE, WASPS, ZEBRE

SATURDAY (1.0) WASPS V ZEBRE; SATURDAY (5.30) CONNACHT V TOULOUSE

POOL 4

LEINSTER, CASTRES, MONTPELLIER, NORTHAMPTON

SATURDAY (3.15) LEINSTER V CASTRES; SATURDAY (5.30) NORTHAMPTON V MONTPELLIER

POOL 5

ULSTER,CLERMONT, BORDEAUX, EXETER

SUNDAY (1.0) BORDEAUX V ULSTER; SUNDAY (5.30) EXETER V CLERMONT

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