Anthony Foley's remains brought to Thomond Park on final journey home
A hearse carrying the body of Munster Rugby legend, Anthony "Axel" Foley, who passed away suddenly in France last weekend, stopped briefly outside the home of Munster Rugby - Thomond Park - tonight, as the Limerick rugby hero made his final journey home, writes David Raleigh.
Fans stood in silence as the coffin in which their former leader lay, momentarily paused in front of a shrine of Munster jerseys, scarfs, and flowers which supporters had been building in anticipation of their former captain's return.
Members of Foley's fellow amateur teammates at Shannon Rugby Club stood in a line in their official club suits as a mark of respect for the 42-year old who previously guided the club to five All-Ireland Championship victories, four of them won in a row.
The hearse, followed closely by "Axel's" family, continued on through the streets of his native Limerick to his former alma mater St Munchin's College where students performed a guard of honour.
Earlier a specially chartered Ryanair flight from Paris (Le Bourget) carrying the Munster great, his father Brendan, and other rugby officials, touched down at Shannon Airport. The "FR008" aircraft represented the number 8 jersey Foley had worn for Shannon, Munster and Ireland.
The results of a post mortem released to the media on Tuesday concluded the Munster head coach died from a build-up of fluid in his lungs caused by a heart condition.
Standing outside Thomond Park, Chairman of Shannon Rugby Club, John Leahy, said: "He was probably one of the most resolute characters ever in our club...we probably didn't realise it when he was younger. Afterwards, as he grew older, it was obvious he was destined for greatness."
"His greatness manifested itself when he won five All-Ireland's with Shannon. We would have won some of them, but not five, not if Anthony Foley hadn't have been on the team...He was the glue that kept it all together."
Mr Leahy added: "He was a thinker, a very focused man. He was always at the back of the scrum which would be edging 70 metres forward and his eyes would be darting left and right, and then he'd tap a teammate on the backside when he saw an opportunity for a score and the team would go forth. He was an incredible reader of the game.
"We loved him."
Twenty members of the club will perform a second guard of honour outside St Flannans Church, Killaloe, for Mr Foley's funeral mass on Friday (12pm).
"We are bereft, there is no doubt about that, but we want to honour him," Mr Leahy said.
Dave and Kay Culhane, from Woodview Park, Limerick, were just two of the hundreds of rugby supporters who gathered at Thomond Park this evening.
"I'm a 'Cookie' - a Young Munsters supporte - and Foley, would probably laugh at me coming down here, but all the clubs in Limerick respected Axel," joked Dave: "I've great memories of him on the field, but unfortunately with Young Munsters the memories aren't great, because he often beat us on his own."
Kay Culhane broke down as she too paid tribute. Wiping away her tears, she said: "I just remember him as always being there for Munster - a big, big man. He always used to look so big and strong. He was a hero to us all."
Of the dozens of personal fan tributes left at the gates of Thomond, one handwritten note by Dave F seemed to sum up how important Axel was to rugby and to the fans.
The note reads: "The axel is the most important part of any vehicle and he made it work so well. I'll miss him so much, I am so sad."
Former Munster player, and current Shannon RFC President Noel "Buddha" Healy, led the assembled crowd in the club's anthem "There Is An Isle".
As their rugby prince left Thomond for the final time, fans wept, and sung on to the final words of their melodic tribute .."And my home, my home is there".