Axel's Widow Explains What Got Her Through His Passing

Confession. I won't be flag waving when Pope Francis touches down here or in the audience when the Popemobile flashes by.

However I was one of the nearly three million people who turned out to welcome the Pontiff at five venues as a youngster nearly 4 decades ago.

Pope John Paul II visited Dublin, Drogheda, Galway, Limerick and Knock back then.

The numbers who turned out  were phenomenal when you consider that the population of the Republic was 3,368,217 in 1979.

I was there with my brother Gary, Mum and Dad at Greenmount racecourse in Limerick.

I remember Dad spent a tenner on cardboard periscopes so the two young fellas could get a fleeting glimpse of the man himself.

We're all in different territory now though.

The Church's standing has been blackened by it's handling of women and children and an interesting stat in 2018 would be the number of lapsed catholics in Ireland today compared to then.

Whether you are an atheist, a believer in one God or none, or you only want to confine religion or your belief system to your own private time, sport is one of those arenas where it can crop up catching you unawares.

The player who blesses themselves when they are brought on.

The player who blesses themselves when they score.

The player who prays for divine intervention to win, recover from injury or just not get sent off.

Thankfully because we live in a democracy you are allowed whatever belief system works for you, as long as it doesnt hurt others.

Whatever you believe in, if you play sport it's clear it has to be something.

Whether its the type of depictions on the Cistine chapel or inside the Pyramids or your own psyche you'll often hear players talk about inner belief, luck or for some a higher power.

Even if you try and escape mentions of religion or that higher power, it gets a mention somewhere in a pre or post match interview.

If you are involved in elite sport we feel like you are part of our world.

So then when you are on whatever stage you are on, and even when you leave, whether you like it or not, you are in the national consciousness.

This explains why sports people are then included in the news sections of tv, radio, online and newspapers.

Insights into the belief system of these members of the sports community often also get an airing when they find themselves in front of a microphone or an audience.

In Ireland the unfathomable trauma endured by the Harte and McAreavy families after Michaela's murder in Mauritius is a case in point.

Mickey has often spoken about his connection with the man above and his faith has been key to him getting through such sadness.

The reason I'm mentioning this is the appearance of Olive Foley, widow of Munster coach Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley, at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.

Olive Foley’s words of remembrance and reflection about the husband she loved and the forces that pulled her through his untimely loss earned a standing ovation, sustained applause, and more than a few tears.

''The last time I spoke at an event this size was at Anthony’s funeral,” she said. That was two years ago this October in Killaloe, county Clare after Anthony, then Munster’s head rugby coach, died of a heart attack in Paris hours before the club was due to play in a Champions Cup match.

Olive paid a tearful tribute to her husband, who was just 42 and left behind their two sons, Tony, who was 11, and Dan, just 8.

“It’s fair to say he was an idol to many but nowhere was he idolised more than at home,” she said.

“Many of you have experienced loss. Mine is no greater than any of yours, but losing Anthony with no notice — my husband, my confidant, my best friend but perhaps most of all the father of my children — it created a void that’s impossible to fill.”

She said, family, however, has helped her deal with the pain.I have a great family,” she said.

“My immediate family, I’ve Anthony’s family, I’ve my family of friends, I’ve my family of faith, and my family of church. And all of these are essential.

“But I also have the family of sport. In those darkest hours, the arms of that family wrapped themselves around me and my family in a way that was quite remarkable and they have done so ever since.

Anthony gave so much to sport but sport has given so much back. He would be very proud today that all those that he soldiered with, those he coached, those he played with or against would join as one big family and wrap us, his family, in a blanket of support.”

The day after Anthony was buried, Munster won at Thomond Park and the players brought Tony and Dan into their post-match team huddle and sang the team anthem, ‘Stand Up And Fight’ for them.

When the circle wrapped around my boys that day, it was a symbol of what the family of sport is about,” she said.

“As much as it is about being there for the great days, it’s about being there for you on the worst of days when you’re on your knees.

Anthony’s former teammate, Ronan O’Gara, who wiped away tears as he listened to Olive talk, also paid tribute. “It’s a cliche, but the family that Axel led was incredibly tight,” he said.'

Whatever you believe in, whatever suffering you are enduring, sport, and the people who sign up to the code of what sport is all about can be a great source of strength at times of sadness.

Something to remember.

You are not alone.