The game of rugby forms incredible bonds between individuals - and on Saturday, against Glasgow, the Munster team - and their peerless captain, Peter O'Mahony - paid tribute to the power of one such bond they all shared with a remarkable man.
There are no brave men and cowardly men in the world, my son. There are only brave men. To be born, to live, to die - that takes courage enough in itself, and more than enough.
We are all brave men and we are all afraid, and what the world calls a brave man, he too is brave and afraid like all the rest of us. Only he is brave for five minutes longer.
- 'The Guns of Navarone', Alistair MacLean
They are all brave for longer than the rest of us, these men. And that is what makes them remarkable. On Saturday, Peter O'Mahony led out the red jerseys of Munster against Glasgow, riding on a wave of almost unfathomable emotion. And in a week that was full of emotion expressed in powerful words and gestures, this way of giving tribute to a man he described as his "brother" was, you sensed, the one O'Mahony preferred. For it is through Anthony Foley's actions - not words - that O'Mahony's admiration for him was first formed. It is through actions, not words, that rugby manifests unique and incredible bonds between individuals. It is actions, not words, that make it such a remarkable and human sport.
To watch fifteen men or women run onto a rugby pitch against fifteen others is to witness a timeless ritual that has been practised as long as there have been warring clans in Ireland, as long as men have felt bonds with one another and battled together against a common foe. When we dip out of modern civilisation and watch eighty minutes of rugby we are really watching a transportation back in time, the stripping away of human beings into raw emotion, passion and desire.
Yes, there are cool heads and tactics and rules. But rugby is the closest thing we have now to the legendary tales of war and battle between mythical foes. It is, indeed, the closest we would ever want to get to war; sport, especially rugby, is civilised war. And it is through that war that bonds are formed, the strength of which those of us on the outside cannot begin to imagine.
When former rugby players look each other in the eye and shake hands, embrace and laugh or cry about old times, memories and lost friends, they don't need any reassurance that the man or woman opposite them would die for them. They have seen that, first hand. They have felt it in a ruck or a scrum or when a fight breaks out. They have sensed it. That is why they are so incredibly close. And it is why there has been such pain felt by the rugby fraternity in the past week.
Alan Quinlan and Ronan O'Gara and Keith Wood - they have looked into Anthony Foley's eyes and he into theirs and a mutual respect and love has been formed in bloody battle, pain and hurt. In the middle of a physical storm they have held each other up and been at each other's back and that is why it hurts so very badly when they lose one of their own, when they feel - for once - powerless to help their companion.
The love Munster fans had - and will always have - for Anthony Foley was borne out of seeing him, time and again, put his body on the line for his province, his people, his clan - like an age-old chief, appointed by his kinsmen to defend his clan and refusing to bend until the air was knocked out of him and his body too tired to go on. That O'Mahony now fills that role is fitting; his whole-hearted and passionate commitment to it is the reason that Munster supporters have a special place in their heart for him - like they did for Doug Howlett and Paul O'Connell before him.
To be born, to live, to die - that requires all of our courage. To step onto a rugby pitch and do battle in the face of such grief, such loss - that takes even more, a level of courage most people cannot even imagine.
Peter O'Mahony is brave and afraid like the rest of us. Only he - this glorious tribute to Anthony Foley, this emblem of all that is great and mighty about Munster rugby - is brave for eighty minutes longer.