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