The choral hiss of beer bottles being cracked open was quickly drowned out by the laughter and the shouting. One of the boys let a roar up towards the front for the radio to be switched off. A fresher duly obliged, and the sing-songs began. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, I think it was. The cup was overflowing, and Gerry Walsh was the first to take a sip- a good sip. It was the second time in as many years; All-Ireland champions. Sweet. We did it for him, our coach; we did it for the jersey, the blue and red of WIT; we did it for each other.
“By a lonely prison wall, I heard a young girl calling..” It was only a matter of time before the first lines rang out, and soon the whole bus was shaking. I turned around knowing full well who had started it off; Emmett Hall knelt on his seat, his eyes squeezed shut, an elbow draped over the seat in front of him, the other arm wrapped around Joycey, who sang along. “Michael, they are taking you away..” Two proud Munster men bellowed as the bus rocked along the Carlow to Waterford road; the raw emotion enough to make you shiver. As the anthem rang out, the tears rolled down Emmett’s cheek; a humbling and admirable endorsement. As much as we all loved the game, rugby simply meant more along the Shannon.
An upbringing in sport offers so much; it can help shape the person you become; it introduces you to life-long friends; it teaches you harsh lessons through adversity and despair, and if you’re lucky, you may even get to drink from a silver cup from time to time; moments that stay with you forever.
Through sport, we are all connected. It has a wonderful ability to bring people together- in victory, and in defeat. Last Sunday, the whole country- and the rugby world- was brought to a shuddering halt with the news that Anthony Foley had passed away suddenly, at just 42 years of age. It crept up on him while he wasn’t looking- like an opportunistic blindside flanker coming in from the side of a ruck. It broke every rule in the book; it wasn’t fair.
A life in rugby was perhaps written- his father Brendan playing on that famous Munster team in ’78 that beat the mighty All Blacks. He knew what he wanted to do from a very early age, and he dedicated his life to fulfilling his destiny; he gave everything of himself for his family, his team-mates, and the jersey.
I wanted to play for Munster, more than anything.
– Anthony Foley
There are lessons in everything that life throws at us; we learn in both victory and defeat. Through death we are reminded of the fragility of life. You look within and ask questions, in an attempt to make sense of it all. You go in search of some glimmer of hope; something to cling to; an idea; a memory; a moment.
Isn’t that all we can hope for? To have the courage and desire to fulfil our potential; to live a life of passion; to find a reason, and a purpose with which to go about our day.
Anthony Foley had a purpose- he stood for something. In life, he touched the hearts of many and influenced a generation through his exploits on and off the field. In death, he continues to inspire and lead, just as he did when he wore the black and blue of Shannon, the red of Munster, and the green of Ireland; he continues to stoke the burning passion of a community, a club, a province, and a nation.
If you get an opportunity, you take it; you cherish it.
– Anthony Foley