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Team-mates united in sorrow

FAR away from the deafening roars of the thousands of fans at Ravenhill who adored him, small groups of friends, relatives and neighbours gathered in silence to pay private tribute to the fearless man who was one of Ulster rugby's most promising stars.

As the mourners came to offer their condolences to Nevin Spence's mother Esme for the loss of not just one but three members of her family, Ulster rugby players got together too to say prayers for their colleague and his father and brother.

Less than 48 hours earlier, the hard men of Ulster rugby had been celebrating an epic win over Munster at Ravenhill. Yesterday, the same sporting heroes were visibly shaken as they returned to the scene of their triumph, for a sad service conducted by their chaplain the Rev Andrew Thompson.

Not surprisingly, the players wanted their private act of sorrow and reflection to be just that. And news cameramen left them alone to remember the 22-year-old centre, his 52-year old father Noel and 30-year-old brother Graham, who all died after falling into a slurry tank on their farm at Drumlough Road outside Hillsborough, Co Down.

The team also prayed for Nevin's sister Emma who was rushed to hospital suffering the effects of fume inhalation.

Emma, who was said to be in a stable condition, is an artist who has painted portraits of a number of the Ulster players.

The quiet that hung over the stadium in south Belfast was mirrored in the almost impossibly beautiful rural landscape around Nevin Spence's home.

Neighbours had rallied round to ensure the day-to-day business of the farm went on. A woman who lives nearby said: "I can't even imagine what Mrs Spence is going through, having lost her husband and sons."

In Ballynahinch where the Spences worshipped at the local Baptist Church, the congregation said prayers for the family. The Rev Rodney Stout said all three men were "incredibly gentle, decent and hard working with a real sense of family loyalty".

Condolences

All day at Ravenhill, Ulster rugby fans turned up to lay floral tributes. Hundreds of people added their condolences on a Facebook page. Golfer Rory McIlroy, who's a fervent Ulster rugby fan, also used social media to pay his respects, while in Dublin, a minute's silence was observed at the All-Ireland Camogie final.

Also yesterday, the funeral took place of Fermanagh GAA player Brian Og Maguire, who was killed in an industrial accident at Derrylin in what has been a difficult seven days for sport, that included the publication of the Hillsborough report.

In Co Down, no one ever imagined that the words Hillsborough and tragedy would be appearing in the headlines again so soon.

Irish Independent