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'Axel Was Munster': Global Media Coverage Of Anthony Foley Does The Great Man Justice

'Axel Was Munster': Global Media Coverage Of Anthony Foley Does The Great Man Justice
Gavan Casey
By Gavan Casey
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The cloud continues to linger over Irish sport and beyond. The untimely death of Munster and Ireland legend Anthony Foley is a gargantuan loss to anyone who has a finger within a mile's radius of Irish sport's pulse, the departure of the man a loss to his family, friends and the wider community.

With his passing, too, arrive fantastic memories and poignant tributes to Foley, and those penned or spoken far afield from his native Killaloe speak volumes as to the larger-than-life nature of his personality, and the regard with which he was held by his peers in rugby not just in Ireland, but across the globe.

The Herald in Scotland described Foley as "one of the great figures of modern Irish sport", and "A rugged competitor who epitomised the physical brand of Irish rugby shown by the likes of Paul O'Connell and Peter Clohessy".

They continued:

It was a career that probably seemed like destiny to Foley - his father Brendan was a member of the Munster team that beat the All Blacks in 1978, he was a lock forward who won 11 caps for Ireland and rugby was in the family blood. His sister Rosie played rugby, but it was Anthony who became the best known of the Foley clan after swapping hurling for the oval ball as a child.

Former England head coach and current Leinster defensive guru Stuart Lancaster, visibly stricken by the loss of a coaching rival, told Sky Sports:

I was reviewing our game when the news came through and preparing to watch their game on TV. It is devastating for his family in particular. Obviously I think about my wife and my kids and I'm sure everyone is doing the same thing. But the arms of Ireland will be around that family.

It has rocked the coaches obviously and the players who knew him. Some of those players would have played with him - and that is Leinster. For Munster themselves as a province, it is devastating. It is devastating for the country but it is a strong country with strong people.

I think they will respect him in the way that everyone would hope will do him justice.

This, predictably, has come to pass, but the UK media have played their part in depicting the Foley's lofty standing within Irish society.


In a beautiful piece in The Telegraph, Mick Cleary, who attended Munster's incredibly emotional press conference in Limerick yesterday, spoke of captain Peter O'Mahony's extraordinary resolve in handling media duties under such duress. Cleary noted:

Rugby is what they do, what Foley did, as player then as coach, a means of expression. That is where they are at their most articulate. There is little need for words. Saturday’s actions will speak for them. They have battled on, endured, and that is all they can do.

He went on to describe how, on three occasions, O'Mahony's head dropped towards his knees as he struggled to find the words to sufficiently pay homage to his long-time idol and coach. After the Cork back row's apology to the press at the tail-end of his most difficult afternoon as team leader, Cleary concluded simply:


The words tailed off. A shuffled exit, head down, an apology again. There was no need to apologise, no need at all.

In France, sports paper L'Équipe led with the the headline, "Colombes était en deuil", describing Racing 92's locality in Paris as being in a state of mourning. On the following page, they ran a profile of Axel, titled 'Munsterman, à la Foley'.


Rival paper Midi Olympique showed Munster fans singing The Fields of Athenry in tribute to Foley, noting in a separate article how Racing were also deeply upset by events on Sunday morning, but that Ronan O'Gara in particular was 'devastated'.


News of the tragedy extended beyond our near neighbours, however. Down Under, the Sydney Morning Herald noted that Foley's untimely passing "has plunged Irish rugby into mourning and left reeling his many friends and former teammates around the globe."

They also spoke with former Munster head coach Alan Gaffney, for whom Foley was a stalwart in a Munster squad which reached two Heineken Cup finals in the early '00s. Gaffney, perhaps better qualified than most, beautifully encapsulated what the Clare man meant to the province, telling the Herald:

You didn't need to have played against Munster to know that Anthony Foley was actually Munster.

That's what 'Axel' was, he was Munster. A traditional Munster man, who had a father who played for Munster and for Ireland, he had a sister who played for Ireland. He was Munster through and through, he would never have changed no matter what he was offered to go anywhere in the world, Axel was Munster.

When I was down there we had five international back rowers all playing for Munster, but no matter how good Alan Quinlan, Dennis Leamy, David Wallace, Jimmy [Williams], and Axel Foley was always virtually first pick.

He was just such a good footy player and probably one of the best footy brains that I've been involved with in my life.

Irrespective of that, the most endearing thing about him to me was that he was a super person, a good person. I very much feel for [Foley's wife] Olive.

Wallabies captain Stephen Moore, who has family ties to Ireland, also told the Sydney Herald:

It's a big shock ... He's leaving behind a young family but also a tremendous legacy for what he did for rugby in Ireland and for Munster,. He'll be remembered fondly for that.

Michael Cheika - who coached against Foley during his five-year stint as Leinster head coach - told Fox in Australia:

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that swirled around in my head all morning when you wake up to news like that. It’s hard to believe to be honest. He’s a guy who, as a coach and he was Munster captain, I competed heavily against.

And when you compete against someone and earn respect for them from competition it shows that there’s a special person behind that. It’s really tragic and our thoughts are with the Munster rugby family and all of Irish rugby.

He was captain of Ireland as well for a while and a well capped player and a real institution over there.

Fox.aus' colleagues in Asia aptly labelled Foley, "a legend of Munster and Irish rugby."

Meanwhile, over in Trinidad & Tobago - a Caribbean nation not considered by many to be a rugby stronghold - Looptt.com wrote of the poignant scenes following Foley's death:

Gathering outside the stadium in the northwest Paris suburb of Colombes, where Munster had been due to play Racing 92, fans from Munster solemnly sang the Irish folk ballad "The Fields of Athenry" in memory of Foley. Supporters also gathered back home in Limerick to pay tribute at Thomond Park, where Munster plays.

Back on the Irish side of the pond, a number of Munster's rival European clubs paid their own respects. Saracens Chief Executive Heath Harvey said via a club statement:

Anthony Foley embodied the best of our sport and the outpouring of tributes and heartfelt messages about his untimely passing goes to show just how loved and respected he was across the rugby community.

From Wales, the Ospreys' statement described Foley as "A true rugby man and a Munster legend", who "will be sadly missed by all in the rugby community, not only in Ireland but across the world." The Ospreys' statement concluded, quite fittingly:

"RIP Axel."

Munster have today announced that they will pay their own homage to the great man on Saturday when Glasgow visit Thomond Park. In more ordinary circumstances, the fact that Peter O'Mahony and co. will don the red jersey just a day after their former head coach's funeral might be tribute enough, but Axel was no ordinary man, and will duly receive a truly extraordinary send-off on a hair-raising afternoon in his spiritual home.

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