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Nevin Spence would have made it to highest level

By Tony Ward

Sometimes even words fail. The sudden and tragic death of Nevin Spence on the cusp of a hugely promising career for province and country has taken the wind out of our sails.

Ulster sport has been hit by tragedy in recent times. Think Tyrone footballer Cormac McAnallen in 2004 and Royal School Armagh flanker John McCall while representing Ireland against New Zealand at the Under 19 Rugby World Cup in South Africa some months before.

Losses impossible to bear for families and impossible to comprehend for team-mates, friends and foe alike; sudden cardiac arrest in what should be the prime of life. Details are still emerging as to what transpired on the Spence family farm in Hillsborough on Saturday evening last.

The exact sequence of events is not yet clear but hopefully the Health and Safety Executive, when it completes its investigations, will provide some solace for the surviving members of the Spence family.

For Nevin's Ulster team-mates, there are tough and challenging times in the days and weeks ahead. It's hard enough for any team in any sporting code when squad members retire, but that is part of the evolutionary process and accepted as such. Equally as difficult has been the curse in recent times of forced emigration the length and breadth of the land.

But sudden and tragic death leaves a painful void for team-mates that may never be filled. The young and talented former Wallace High School three-quarter was blessed with potential above the ordinary. Already part of Declan Kidney's extended national squad and having represented Ireland at two underage World Cups, he was as close as doesn't matter to the ultimate rugby honour.

He had played for the Wolfhounds (Ireland 'A') as well as being a member of the Ireland squad against the Barbarians in Gloucester (coming on as a replacement) prior to the New Zealand tour in May.

He was one of an exciting group of Ulster backs who emerged under Brian McLaughlin. These included Darren Cave; Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson; Paul Marshall; Ian Whitten; as well as Luke Marshall and the recently returned Niall O'Connor. Having been named IRUPA Young Player of the Year by his peers in 2011, Nevin, who had broken into the senior national squad, was a bundle of midfield energy primed to explode at the very top.

Alas, that will not now come to pass. Ulster and Irish rugby has been robbed of a burgeoning talent, but that pales into insignificance when weighed against the loss to his nearest and dearest.

All we can do is echo the words of Billy Glynn, president of the IRFU, in saying the thoughts of everybody involved in rugby on this island are with the Spence family. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.

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