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.

Jim Stynes (Dublin and Melbourne) also passed away in 2012 aged 45. A Dublin minor All-Ireland medallist and the most successful GAA export to the Australian Football (AFL), Stynes won a Brownlow medal in 1991 and will be remembered as a philanthropist, a football player in Ireland and Australia and a football administrator.

Séamus Bonner (Donegal), a three-time Ulster medallist with Donegal and later one of Brian McEniff’s selectors in the 1992 All-Ireland winning management also died this year. He also managed Leitrim and was the father of Dublin’s Kevin Bonner, while Kieran ‘Jap’ Finlay (Monaghan), one of the county’s greatest footballers and father of current player Paul also passed.

There were several other GAA deaths in 2012 among them Matt Fitzpatrick (Down) aged 83, a veteran Ulster GAA journalist; Brian Maguire a 24-year-old Fermanagh county footballer, killed in a workplace accident; Kieran Maher (aged 52) was a Dublin All-Ireland medallist in 1983; Seán ‘Yank’ Murray (Dublin), a centrefielder on the team that won the 1958 football All-Ireland; Donal O’Brien, a goalkeeper on Tipperary’s back-to-back All-Ireland winners of 1961-62 and Phil Shanahan of Tipperary was 84 and a member of the three-in-row All-Ireland winning team of 1949-51.

In horseracing Walter Haefner (Moyglare Stud owner) died June 19, aged 101, while Fergie Sutherland, a Gold Cup winning trainer, died October 31, aged 81.

In rugby former IRFU President Paddy Madigan passed away peacefully. He won his first Leinster cap in 1964 and made 15 appearances for the province before playing in several Irish trials. He was extremely unlucky not to gain an international cap as his appearances as an Ireland replacement ran into double figures.

In Galway soccer mourned the passing of former Limerick, Galway United and Aston Villa defender Eamon “Chick” Deacy who died suddenly at the age of 53. Capped four times by Ireland in 1982 against Algeria and, on the ill-fated South American tour of 1982 to Chile, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago, the tidy left-back, had a spell Aston Villa where he played nine times during the championship-winning campaign. He featured on a number of occasions as the club progressed to victory in the European Cup the following season, although he didn’t make the matchday squad.

He also had loan spell at Derby County but turned down the chance to stay, preferring instead to return home to Galway United where he was to spend seven seasons. He retired from senior football shortly afterwards but remained an enormously popular figure within the game and around the city.

Golf’s Conor Mallon also died this year. The PGA professional, who won the 2004 Irish Club Professional Championship tragically died in March.