Updated 9.40am: Foley family release moving statement (read below).
Former Ireland captain and current Munster Rugby coach Anthony Foley passed away suddenly in the team’s Paris hotel on Saturday night, the night before Munster was to play Racing 92 in a European Champions Cup tie.
Foley (42) died of a suspected heart attack and was found dead in his hotel room. It is reported by the Mail on Sunday that Foley, known as Axel, shared a quiet drink with his colleagues before retiring early to bed. He was pronounced dead at the scene after he failed to attend an early morning meeting.
As a mark of respect the Sunday game was rescheduled and Munster fans gathered at the stadium, Stade Yves du Manoir, to hold an impromptu vigil for the rugby hero.
Foley captained the Ireland rugby team three times during a 62-cap career and skippered Munster to Heineken Cup glory in 2006, defeating Biarritz in the championship in Cardiff. Back-rower Foley made a try-scoring international debut against England in the 1995 Six Nations tournament and from 2000 to 2005 he was a key figure in Ireland’s team.
In 2008 he retired leaving Munster as the club’s most-capped player with 194 appearances for the provincial side.
Joe Stack reflects on the decorated career of Anthony Foley https://t.co/jcGdKIG0mG— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) October 16, 2016
Foley is survived by his wife Olive and his two children. Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed that they are providing consular assistance through Ireland’s embassy in Paris.
The Foley family released a statement on Monday. It reads:
“The family of Anthony Foley wishes to extend its deepest appreciation to the endless legions of friends and the wider rugby family here and abroad for the huge outpouring of support and sympathy since Anthony’s tragic and most untimely passing at the weekend.
“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. 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.
“We know, too, that his sudden death has brought the rugby worlds of Shannon RFC, Munster, Ireland and much 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.
“We again wish to thank everyone for their support; it will help carry us through these darkest days.
“With regard to media, we thank you also for the sensitive way in which you have paid tribute to Anthony since the weekend but we do ask that our privacy and that of his close friends be respected over this tragic period.”
Former Irish captain and teammate Ronan O’Gara, who is now a coach at Racing 92, spoke of the loss of an “incredible man.” O’Gara and Foley were long time teammates and won two Heineken Cups and a Celtic League with Munster and a Triple Crown with Ireland in 2004.
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
Former Ireland coach Donal Lenihan spoke of the “shock and horror” of Foley’s death and said he was a man “destined to play rugby.”
Words can't describe how saddened I am about the loss of Axel. Was a privilege to coach with my friend. Thoughts with his family & Munster— Les Kiss (@OKissy) October 16, 2016
Eddie O’Sullivan, who coached Foley with the Ireland team, told Newtalk FM's "Off the Ball" program, "What he brought was a phenomenal rugby brain to the game. It wasn't just his ability to play. He had a great skill set... He knew that nuance that keeps teams on track and steers them to victory."
He added, “I've no doubt in my mind, that he was going to take on Munster again a few years down the track... He was going to coach Ireland, I've no doubt about that. From a rugby point of view, it's a dreadful loss to Irish rugby."
Other former teammates voiced their shock and sorrow on Twitter:
Can't quite believe it. So incredibly sad. My thoughts are with Olive, his boys & and his extended family. https://t.co/rslxzyC85T— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) October 16, 2016
Feeling numb and alone with only thoughts of this remarkable man.My protector on the field,I will miss you forever Axel.— Peter Stringer (@stringer9) October 16, 2016
Axel you will be remembered long in our hearts, a light shines on Foley Hill in Killaloe tonight with Olive & the boys #ripaxel— Gordon D'Arcy (@Gordonwdarcy) October 16, 2016
Other tributes came in from around the world.
Still can't believe the tragic news! Thoughts to Anthony Foleys family, friends & @Munsterrugby boys— Dan Carter (@DanCarter) October 16, 2016
shocked & so sad to hear about death of Anthony Foley.A true legend & a man who had total respect of teammates & opposition @Munsterrugby— Sir Clive Woodward (@CliveWoodward) October 16, 2016
How incredibly sad to hear about the passing of the great Anthony Foley. With enormous respect and deepest sympathy for his family.— Jonny Wilkinson (@JonnyWilkinson) October 16, 2016
Absolutely tragic news about Anthony Foley. Thoughts are with his family and all @Munsterrugby— Martyn Williams (@martynewilliams) October 16, 2016
Here’s a short video of Anthony Foley being interviewed in Chicago, in 2007: