SAD LOSS The untimely deaths of sportsmen Anthony Foley and Fergal Mulgrew have left all whose lives they touched reeling.
What a horrible few days. All of you will be aware of the sad and sudden passing of Munster Rugby legend Anthony Foley recently. At the time of writing, the cause of death had not been established, but the assumption is that he suffered a heart attack.
I learned of Foley’s death while driving back from my wife’s childhood home in County Tyrone. We had been up there for the funeral of her first cousin, Fergal Mulgrew, who had passed away a few days earlier, aged only 40. Fergal had been training for the Dublin Marathon and collapsed after a training session. Again, at this stage, I haven’t heard the specifics as to the cause of death, but it was definitely heart related.
The outpouring of grief has been similar, despite the obvious differences in the profile of these two men. Foley’s death has affected all supporters of Irish rugby, and particularly Munster, but the shock has been felt around the world, with messages of support coming from the rugby fraternity wherever they may be.
Fergal Mulgrew’s passing has had a similar effect on the close-knit running community of Northern Ireland. Athletics clubs postponed their training sessions in the days leading up to the funeral, and members of his club, Acorns AC and other clubs in the area formed a guard of honour as his coffin was carried towards the chapel. Like the tributes left at Thomond Park by supporters, Mass cards had come to Fergal’s parents from people he knew only briefly, but touched nonetheless.
Just as former teammates and opponents have told of their memories of playing with and against Anthony Foley, social media has been full of stories from those who knew Fergal. There are tales of Fergal motivating running partners on cold, wet nights; of Fergal running his own race while still supporting others; of Fergal travelling to races when injured in support of friends and club mates.
In Cookstown, we sat in silence in Fergal’s room where he was laid out, surrounded by his heartbroken parents and sisters, and extended family and friends, with his running medals, photos and training schedule still pinned to a noticeboard on the wall. I never know what to say at funerals, but there, in that house, there was nothing to say. No consolation; no notion of ‘he’s gone to a better place’ or ‘at least he’s not suffering’. Just shock and numbness.
All of his cousins, and there are many, spoke of the truest of gentlemen, someone of whom a bad word could never be spoken. I imagine things are just the same in Limerick. All the families of these two young men can do is hang on to happy memories and each other, and hope that over time the pain eases a little.
Should we worry that two seemingly healthy young men have died so suddenly of what appear to be cardiac incidents? Absolutely. Could either of their deaths be related to their sporting endeavours? Maybe, maybe not; that’s for the experts to say. Should we let that stand in the way of encouraging people to play rugby, to run marathons, play golf or GAA?Absolutely not.
As horrific as these events are, research and experience both show that exercise and sport remain good for us, both physically and mentally. Indeed, I’m sure all of those present at Fergal’s funeral would have loved one more run with him, and Foley’s former teammates would give anything to be back in the Thomond Park dressing room for one last match. No, we should keep at it, doing whatever it is we do that makes us happy and keeps us healthy.
But now isn’t the time for lecturing; it’s for grieving and remembering. And for giving your family a hug and telling them you love them. Rest in peace Fergal Mulgrew and Anthony Foley, you will be sorely missed.
> Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.