Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Tyrone Howe: Amazing young man Nevin Spence did things the right way

The funeral cortage  of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham (30) and Nevin (22) at Ballynahinch Baptist Church
The funeral cortage of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham (30) and Nevin (22) at Ballynahinch Baptist Church
The funeral cortage of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham (30) and Nevin (22) at Ballynahinch Baptist Church
Ravenhill Rugby Club on the day of the Spence funerals
Nevin Spence's coffin is covered with his Ulster Flag Jersey after his funeral service at Ballynahinch Baptist church, in Co Down
Jim Neilly
Nevin Spence coffin drapped in his Ulster Rugby Heineken Cup jersey.
Edwin Poots MLA and family friend
Family members at the head of the funeral cortage of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham (30) and Nevin (22) at Ballynahinch Baptist Church
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt (left) attending the Spence funeral.
Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte (left) pictured at the funeral
A police officer salutes Nevin Spence's coffin as it leaves the church after the funeral service
Ulster player Tommy Bowe pictured at the funeral
Ulster captain Johann Muller pictured at the funeral.
The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson arrives at the funeral
Ravenhill Rugby Club on the day of the Spence funerals. Photograph by Declan Roughan
The Spence family arrive at Ballynahinch Baptist church, in Co Down for the funeral service of Noel Spence, 68, and his sons Graham, 30, and Nevin, 22. Photo PA
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland -19th September 2012Mandatory Credit - Brian Little/ PresseyeThe funeral of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham (30) and Nevin (22) at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, who died in an farming accident on Saturday evening.Ulster rugby player Paddy McAllister (centre) walking in the funeral cortage.
The Spence family arrive at Ballynahinch Baptist church, in Co Down for the funeral service of Noel Spence, 68, and his sons Graham, 30, and Nevin, 22. Photo PA
The Spence family arrive at Ballynahinch Baptist church, in Co Down for the funeral service of Noel Spence, 68, and his sons Graham, 30, and Nevin, 22. Photo PA
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland -19th September 2012Mandatory Credit - Brian Little/ PresseyeThe funeral of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham (30) and Nevin (22) at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, who died in an farming accident on Saturday evening.Harry Sinclaie Ulster Farmers Union President.
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland -19th September 2012Mandatory Credit - Brian Little/ PresseyeFamily members at the head of the funeral cortage of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham (30) and Nevin (22) at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, who died in an farming accident on Saturday evening.UUP leader Mike Nesbitt (left) attending the Spence Funeral.
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland -19th September 2012Mandatory Credit - Brian Little/ PresseyeThe funeral cortage of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham (30) and Nevin (22) at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, who died in an farming accident on Saturday evening.
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland -19th September 2012Mandatory Credit - Brian Little/ PresseyeThe funeral cortage of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham (30) and Nevin (22) at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, who died in an farming accident on Saturday evening.
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland -19th September 2012Mandatory Credit - Brian Little/ PresseyeThe funeral of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham (30) and Nevin (22) at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, who died in an farming accident on Saturday evening.
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland -19th September 2012Mandatory Credit - Brian Little/ PresseyeThe funeral cortage of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham (30) and Nevin (22) at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, who died in an farming accident on Saturday evening.
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland -19th September 2012Mandatory Credit - Brian Little/ PresseyeThe funeral cortage of Noel Spence and his two sons Graham (30) and Nevin (22) at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, who died in an farming accident on Saturday evening.
19/9/12 PACEMAKER BELFAST. Essie Spence is comforted by family members at todays funeral in Ballynahinch of Noel, Nevin and Graham Spence who died following a tragic farming accident at their Hillsborough home at the weekend. Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
19/9/12 PACEMAKER BELFAST. Surviving family member Emma Rice at todays funeral in Ballynahinch of father Noel and brothers Nevin and Graham Spence who died following a tragic farming accident at their Hillsborough home at the weekend. Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
Funerals at Ballynahinch Baptist Church for Ulster rugby star Nevin Spence along with his brother Graham and father Noel
Funerals at Ballynahinch Baptist Church for Ulster rugby star Nevin Spence along with his brother Graham and father Noel
Emma Spence twice risked her life to try and save her brothers and father
Nevin Spence, 22, came to prominence playing for Ulster Rugby and was a rising star in Ireland's international rugby scene
Ulster rugby player Nevin Spence who was killed, along with his father and brother in a farming accident
Book of condolence opened at Ravenhill rugby ground for Ulster rugby star Nevin Spence along with his brother Graham and father Noel who died in a slurry tank accident on the family farm outside Hillsborough in Co. Down. Tributes placed at Ravenhill
Book of condolence opened at Ravenhill rugby ground for Ulster rugby star Nevin Spence along with his brother Graham and father Noel who died in a slurry tank accident on the family farm outside Hillsborough in Co. Down. Tributes placed at Ravenhill
A painting of Nevin Spence by his sister Emma.
Book of condolence opened at Ravenhill rugby ground for Ulster rugby star Nevin Spence along with his brother Graham and father Noel who died in a slurry tank accident on the family farm outside Hillsborough in Co. Down. Tributes placed at Ravenhill
Artist Emma Spence from Hillsborough County Down pictured at her studio in a barn at the rear of her father's farm. ©Press Eye Ltd - Northern Ireland.25th February 2011
Pacemaker Press 17/9/2012 Graham Spence
Graham Spence at his Hillsborough farm.
Nevin Spence on the family farm. Pacemaker press
Ulster's Nevin Spence
Nevin Spence, father Noel and brother Graham
Nevin Spence playing for Ulster last December against the Scarletts
Nevin Spence at Ulster's summer camp
Nevin Spence in action for Ulster against Bath
Nevin Spence with Ulster team-mate Nigel Brady back in December 2010
Nevin Spence relaxing down on the farm
Nevin Spence (far left) with young Oscar Knox who suffers from a rare form of cancer
Gifted: Accident survivor Emma Spence on the family farm
Emma Spence in her artist's studio
Emma Spence's portrait of brother Nevin on the rugby pitch
Ulster's Nevin Spence
Horror: The Spence farm, where emergency services attended on Saturday night after four people were overcome by fumes
Horror: The Spence farm, where emergency services attended on Saturday night after four people were overcome by fumes
Tributes for Nevin Spence and his family left at Ravenhill
A family console each other while reading messages of condolence at the home of Ulster Rugby
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Nevin Spence, who died alongside his father Noel and brother Graham
Ulster's Nevin Spence
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.

I have probably started this article a hundred times and each time pressed delete and tried to start again. How do you begin to put the tragic events of the weekend into some sort of perspective?

There is no perspective. When you try to think of the enormity of the tragedy to befall Nevin Spence and his family, you are left grasping for answers.

Sense, logic or rationality counts for nothing. It has absolutely shocked and stunned not only the Northern Ireland community but also touched countless numbers around the world.

In a week which also saw the death of leading GAA player Brian Og Maguire it is indeed a dark time for sport, the country and the respective family circles.

I cannot claim to have really known Nevin, but I watched his progress on the rugby pitch and on the few occasions that I met him, he was an enormously impressive young man.

Above all, for me, he exuded a quiet and understated strength. It is something that has been echoed by those who knew him whether as school friends, team mates or coaches.

People for whom I have the utmost respect, speak about Nevin in almost reverential tones.

He was what others aspired to be — in every way a true role model, both as a young man and a rugby player.

In the world of professional rugby where players demand more attention and enjoy the trimmings of a well-paid existence, Nevin was the complete antithesis. Fundamentally he loved rugby and his core motivation was to be the best that he could be.

As a result, he was a coach’s dream, blessed with serious talent, a genuine, honest approach and a tireless work ethic.

Yet, while striving to hone his own individual talent, he never lost sight of the intangible factor that underpins the sport — the concept of team.

Nevin was the ultimate team man, a natural leader who gave absolutely everything for those who stood beside him whether it was in school, club, provincial or national colours. He would never stop trying for you.

For me, Nevin played rugby exactly the way it should be played — tough and uncompromising, he embraced his talents while working at the limitations of his game.

He was confrontational and enjoyed the physicality, but he was also scrupulously fair and got on with his job, being prepared to do the dirty work but also looking for that opportunity to score.

He was the epitome of what an Ulster rugby player should be.

In many ways, rugby is a metaphor for life. While some think it builds character, I prefer to think that it reveals character.

To those who knew Nevin well, he was a rock. His life was founded on strong principles: his Christian faith the bedrock of his attitude and behaviour. Yet his beliefs did not compromise his ability to laugh, and his humour and ready smile were there for all to see.

This security and assurance can sometimes be unnerving to those in a less convinced religious position, but his humility and gentle manner meant that everyone liked him.

And I mean everyone. He had a certain grace — compassion with a tough edge, or maybe tough with a compassionate edge.

This will be the greatest challenge that any of Nevin’s team mates have faced. In the shadow of such a tragedy, what does rugby matter? Clearly, it pales into utter insignificance.

But actually it still has real value. The proof is the outpouring of grief and emotion from within and beyond the Ulster Rugby family. It reveals just what a difference Nevin made to people’s lives.

Surely there is no greater achievement than to make a positive difference to another person’s existence.

Nevin had that opportunity and he made the most of it through his talent and his character. That is why it is so important that Ulster simply have to push on. They still have that opportunity and to waste it would be to do the most enormous disservice to the memory of Nevin Spence.

The sincere and heartfelt messages have come in from around the globe but one that struck me was from another young man, golfing superstar Rory McIlroy, who seemingly has the world at his feet: ‘Makes you cherish every day you have on this Earth’.

Undoubtedly, there will be a new sense of togetherness and opportunities to make a positive difference. But there is time enough for that. Now is the time for deep sorrow, support, reflection and condolence.

Nevin Spence was an amazing young man who will never be forgotten.

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