Belfast Telegraph

Devastation at sudden death of promising young rugby star

By Alice Johnson

A young rugby player who died suddenly from a mystery illness was considered to be a rising star of the game he loved so much.

Friends and family of James McMaster have been left devastated after the Portadown teenager died in the intensive care unit of Craigavon Area Hospital on Wednesday — just three days after his 19th birthday.

The university student died five weeks after he was admitted to hospital suffering from a sharp pain in his hip. The cause of his illness is not known and it is understood that James’s death was a shock.

Tributes have been paid to the young man who was considered to have a promising rugby career ahead of him.

Off the pitch, James was in his first year of a civil engineering degree at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown. On the pitch, he was just last month voted the seconds' young player of the year at his club, Portadown Rugby Club.

Richard McKimm, manager of Portadown 2nd XV, said that James was considered “a real prospect” of the game.

“He was dedicated to the pitch, played hard and had only just made his first appearance in the 1st XV at the beginning of April.

“It's terrible —the whole club is shocked by it.”

Andrew Symington, head of boys' PE at Portadown College, said that his former pupil was starting to get the rewards for his dedication to rugby.

“He was a great character — very, very keen to learn and listen and he was one of the best players on our 1st XV,” he said. “He was starting to get the rewards for his dedication to the sport.”

Mr Symington, a friend of James's father Jimmy, said he had heard that the teen was in hospital but had not realised how serious his condition was.

“We heard he had suffered a pain in his side and had been taken into hospital and was undergoing all kinds of tests, but nobody could find what was wrong,” Mr Symington said.

Portadown FC manager Ronnie McFall — who is a first cousin of James's mother Grace — said that the whole family was completely devastated. “He hadn't even reached the prime of his life — we're all devastated.

“We're just waiting to hear the results of the post-mortem,” Mr McFall said.

Portadown College principal Simon Harper said that there had been “great speculation” about James's illness and death.

“There has been great speculation but we're just so sad to hear about this tragic event,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“James was a hugely popular young man and a delight to have in the college... he was full of life and had so many friendships. We're all devastated.”

A University of Ulster spokesperson said: “The university was saddened to learn of our student’s death. Our sympathies are with his family, friends and fellow students at this difficult time.”

Background

The untimely deaths of apparently young, fit sports figures have made headlines in recent years with the loss of Tyrone Gaelic footballer Cormac McAnallen being one particularly high-profile case. The former county captain (24) died in March 2004 from an undetected heart condition.

Later that month Royal Armagh School pupil John McCall (18), who played for Ireland's under-19s, collapsed during a game against New Zealand and died from cardiac failure.

The issue was highlighted in March this year when Premiership footballer Fabrice Muamba suffered heart failure while on the pitch. He survived after immediate medical attention.

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