Nevin Spence looked keen and eager for the challenge of another season
Last Friday afternoon was all about getting a first run-out for the season and a chance to get the body working again in a proper game.
The Ulster Ravens had selected several players who would normally not have been expected to be togging out for them as they took on Munster ‘A’ in a friendly at Deramore ahead of the main event at Ravenhill that evening.
While most eyes were on the season-opening performances of Chris Henry and Dan Tuohy — who had toured with Ireland over the summer — considerable attention was also focused on Nevin Spence’s return to action.
Injury had blunted his impact last season, and had done the same for the beginning of this one, but this was an opportunity for the 22-year-old to show new coach Mark Anscombe that he could recapture the form that had propelled him into becoming an integral part of the starting line-up during season 2010-11.
He played 70 minutes and put himself about with his usual gusto and there were several notable big hits as he tried to make his mark after having last played in late May for an Ireland XV — he came off the bench for the last few minutes — in their clash with the Barbarians in Gloucester.
His performance last Friday clearly showed that he had the hunger and desire to push himself towards staking his claim at getting a place in Ulster’s midfield.
These days that is no easy task and playing centre for Ulster is as tough as it has ever been in such an ultra-competitive environment with Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Chris Farrell and the still to return Paddy Wallace all vying for supremacy.
That Munster ‘A’ went on to shade Friday’s game was disappointing for all the Ravens’ players, but it had still been a useful hit-out and Nevin had got his game time and was doubtless focusing on returning to training this week.
That it was the last time anyone would ever see him on a rugby field is still simply inconceivable.
After the game, he jumped into his car and headed out of the Deramore car park tooting his horn in recognition as myself and a colleague walked to our car.
Friday was meant to be just the start of getting back to it all again. Now, a bright light has been extinguished and a family devastated by his death and that of his father and brother.