Jason McGrath with his son Tomas, 5, outside Thomond Park ahead of this afternoon's game PICTURE: DAVE GAYNOR
MUNSTER produced a performance befitting of the late, great Anthony Foley, as they ran out comfortable winners over Glasgow Warriers.
There were emotional and poignant scenes ahead of the province's 38-17 victory,as the team took to the field for the first time since the Heineken Cup winning captain’s tragic death in Paris.
Thomond Park was packed to the rafters, with supporters in their seats more than 20 minutes before the 1pm kick off time to facilitate a special tribute to the 42-year-old Munster legend.
Families clung to each other for strength, and struggled to hold back tears as the Munster Rugby Supporters Club choir performed ‘There is an Isle’, the anthem of Foley’s club Shannon RFC.
Speaking ahead of kick-off, Shannon RFC man John Ryan, who grew up in the shadow of Thomond Park said: “He was a staunch man. You could not put into words what kind of a man he was. He was a kind man, he looked out for people all of the time. I will never forget 2006 when he lifted that trophy for the first time.”
“The saddest thing of the whole lot is what he has left behind. He has two young children and a wife which is so very sad,” John added.
Supporters in the West Stand held up images in a mosaic format which depicted the number eight jersey worn by the late star.
Soprano Sinead O'Brien then joined the choir to perform 'Stand Up And Fight’, while a minute of silence was impeccably observed by the capacity crowd of 26,500 which included President Michael D Higgins.
Young players and students from Shannon RFC and Anthony’s former school St Munchin’s formed a guard of honour as the two sides walked out.
Jason McGrath from Kileely added: “You don't have to know Axel personally to know what type of a player he was and to know what Munster meant to him. Even my child has never met him, he still means everything to him. It will be an emotional day, but a great day- a Munster day.”
As a mark of esteem to the former back-row – who would have turned 43 next Sunday – the eponymous number eight jersey was retired for the day.
CJ Stander wore number 24 instead.
Foley’s nickname, ‘Axel’ was also embroidered under the famous Munster crest.
Ahead of the game, Books of Condolence were opened to all fans, while a special commemorative programme documenting Anthony’s life in rugby was published.
A percentage of all proceeds will go towards a fund or charitable cause to be agreed upon by the Foley family with backing from Munster Rugby.
Match report: Munster do Anthony Foley proud in rout of Glasgow