I arrived outside Thomond Park at 10:00am on Saturday morning: I was there to steward my very first Munster game, and I knew it was an important day, as 25,000 seats had been sold-out for a day for Munster & rugby supporters in general to pay their respects to the late Anthony “Axel” Foley. The mood upon arriving was sombre, and we all knew what an important task we had ahead of us. The choir practised their anthems and their voices boomed across the empty field.
The gates opened at 11 to the waiting crowds, and they streamed in, eager to get to their seats and pay their respects. I was in the West Stand in section 212, showing people to their seats and just doing the general work of a steward. The remembrance proceedings started at around half 12 with a minute’s silence, during which you honestly could’ve heard a pin drop; then the anthems of the club, ‘Stand Up and Fight’ and ‘The Fields of Athenry’ rang out across the stadium.
As Munster walked out onto the pitch the place exploded with noise, as the people chanted “Munster” from the depth of their lungs. Everyone was here to remember Foley and to support the team that had only just buried their manager, friend & hero only the day before. The first try could’ve blown the roof off, and thus began a performance the like of Munster’s old, a quality which we have not seen in quite a long time; even Keith Earls being sent off in the 18th minute didn’t deter neither the fans nor the team. In the end Munster won comfortably with a 37-18 bonus point victory.
When the final whistle blew, we knew that Foley’s name had been honoured, and the Munster team did a lap of honour to thank the fans for their support. It truly felt like the Munsters of old. An especially poignant moment, one that will stick with me, was when the Munster squad formed a ring of honour, and the roar of the crowd died down to what they thought was them paying their respects, but it was to allow the sound of Stand Up and Fight to come from the team, and as it echoed across the stadium to the crowd, all 25,000 started singing along with a ferocity I have not heard before.
A legend lost – a legacy forged in the terraces forevermore.