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Wednesday 16 January 2019

Schoolboy hero dies in tragic collapse at match

Paul Melia and Kieran Rooney

ON St Patrick's Day the proud family of John McCall cheered as he lifted aloft the Ulster Schools Rugby Cup. They could never have imagined amid the euphoria of that sunny afternoon that less than two weeks later they would be preparing to bury the 18-year-old who had so much to live for.

ON St Patrick's Day the proud family of John McCall cheered as he lifted aloft the Ulster Schools Rugby Cup.

They could never have imagined amid the euphoria of that sunny afternoon that less than two weeks later they would be preparing to bury the 18-year-old who had so much to live for.

The red-haired flanker had been told after the cup win that he had been picked to play for Ireland U19s - one of the few schoolboys to be selected.

The gifted artist, mature beyond his years, was looking forward to studying architecture at Queen's University in Belfast and continuing to excel in the sport he loved so much.

But tragedy struck 20 minutes into a World Cup match against New Zealand in South Africa on Saturday when he suddenly collapsed. He was taken to hospital in Dubran where he died soon afterwards.

Early reports suggested that he died from "sudden death syndrome", a term used to describe heart attacks among young people. A post-mortem examination will be performed tomorrow.

Yesterday, his father, Ian, flew to South Africa to bring his son's body home. Mr McCall is understood to have been at his Co Armagh home with his wife, Carolyn, when the couple learned their son had died.

The senior squad celebrating its historic Triple Crown victory observed a minute's silence at Saturday night's celebration dinner at the Berkeley Court hotel in Dublin. Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll offered condolences to the young man's family on behalf of the squad.

An IRFU spokesman said Mr McCall's death did not happen as a result of a collapsed scrum, but came from open play. "Nobody knows what happened, but it wasn't a scrum," John Redmond said yesterday. The wing forward was left motionless on the ground after a routine play. It is understood he took the ball from the back of a line-out and ran with it, was tackled around the ankles, made the ball available, and play moved on, leaving him motionless on the ground.

He had a neck brace fitted on the field after it was believed he was seriously injured and received lengthy treatment at the Absa Stadium medical centre before being taken to St Augustine's Hospital in Durban.

IRFU President John Quilligan said it was a "terrible tragedy" and offered condolences to the player's family on behalf of "all Irish sport". Barry Keogh, senior vice president of IRFU, was on his way to South Africa yesterday to represent the union.

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