Spence and Ó Sé among the dearly departed
OBITUARIES:The Ulster centre and legendary former Kerry player were among those taken from us this year, writes JOHNNY WATTERSON
The sad passing of Páidí Ó Sé and Nevin Spence stunned Irish sporting circles, and the GAA and rugby communities in particular, this year. Their deaths proved both shocking and sudden. Both men died long before their time but Spence’s death was almost too tragic for comprehension.
Spence was a talented 22-year-old with a golden rugby career ahead of him; Ó Sé a legendary Kerry footballer with a glittering career behind him.
The death of Spence will be long remembered, especially in Ulster Rugby. The young centre died alongside his brother and their father in a farming tragedy on September 15th.
Spence rose to prominence playing for Ulster Rugby and was a rising star in the international scene but died with his family members in a slurry tank on the family farm in Drumlough Road outside Hillsborough. He was a member of the Ulster Rugby squad that reached the Heineken Cup final last season, and was predicted to have a golden international career ahead of him.
Educated at Dromore High School, where he started rugby and then at Wallace High School, he was also a capable footballer, playing for the Northern Ireland U-16s. His talent was recognised last season, when he was named Young Player of the Year at the IRFU Players’ Association Awards. Then in May he played for Ireland against the Barbarians in a non-capped game. It is believed he was overcome by fumes in the slurry tank along with his brother Graham and father Noel, possibly while trying to save a dog.
The GAA football legend Ó Sé passed away suddenly, aged just 57. The irrepressible Kerry star won eight senior All-Ireland football medals during a superb playing career and added two more as manager of his native county. He also took Westmeath to a Leinster title.
More than 2,000 attended the funeral in Ventry, Co Kerry with tributes flooding in from all over the world. Speaking at the funeral mass on December 18th, Fr Kieran O’Brien, who had struck up a close friendship with Ó Sé and used to play handball with him, said “like a rock being thrown into water, ripples of shock spread out amongst the public who knew him”.
He added that “Páidí . . . was not just of Ventry but belonged to the whole country and he was a hero, leader and friend to an awful lot of people”.
John Egan (Kerry) also died relatively young at 59. Egan was a prolific goal scorer for the country and a team-mate of Páidí’s on five All-Ireland winning teams.