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'Rock' Ralph Spearman is mourned by old boys of Instonians

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Ralph Spearman (left) with Irish rugby  legend Jack Kyle

Ralph Spearman (left) with Irish rugby legend Jack Kyle

Ralph Spearman (left) with Irish rugby legend Jack Kyle

Former Ulster and Irish Hockey president Brian Hanna has paid a glowing tribute to the man who was 'the rock on which the Instonians club was built'.

Brian, who was also a top goalkeeper with the Inst club in his younger days, was referring to the late Ralph Spearman, who was laid to rest yesterday at Malone Presbyterian Church.

Hundreds, including many former RBAI and Instonians, turned up at the funeral to pay respect to the 85-year-old who passed away after illness.

Ralph, originally from Armagh, joined the RBAI teaching staff away back in 1949 and within two years he took over as the man in charge of hockey in what was a strong rugby school.

But he went on to develop the sport there to such an extent that he instigated the formation of the Instonians club in 1959.

And the legacy that he left went on to flourish, with Inst now recognised as one of the leading clubs in Ulster, having produced many past and present international stars.

"He was a wonderful and determined man, and it wasn't easy for him taking over the hockey at a time when rugby was the school's main sport," said Hanna, who also remembers him as a fine coach.

"His strategy was to get the under-13s right, and everything would develop from that. And so it did at the school, as RBAI won the Burney Cup in 1960 and went on to be the dominate force in Ulster schools hockey for the next four decades.

"The school went on to produce many international players, including Terry Gregg, who was recognised as one of the finest ever to come out of our province."

But Ralph also recognised that young players coming through the school needed a club to play for in later years and so he was the main instigator in the formation of Instonians in 1959, and since then the club has grown in stature.

"It was a proud moment for Ralph, and also me, when as Irish president, I handed over the Irish Senior Cup to Instonians in May 1995, the first time the club had won an all-Ireland competition," said Hanna.

"There were six internationals playing that day – current coach Mark Irwin, the Cooke brothers Paul and Neil, Paddy Brown, John Atkins and the captain Paul Hollway.

"And indeed the school is still producing international players, with John Jackson, Michael Watt, Paul Gleghorne and James Lorimer all current Irish internationals and Mark Gleghorne a Great Britain international."

Ralph is survived by his wife Alison, son David, daughter Susan, and brother Leslie.

Belfast Telegraph