Ulster stand shoulder to shoulder but will look back on this as the toughest season of their lives
FROM THE BLINDSIDE:The death of a team-mate is tough but doing justice to his memory can bring real pride, writes ALAN QUINLAN
In all the excitement of the run-up to Christmas, it’s very easy to forget that plenty of families are going to have a hard time enjoying it. There will be none who have it harder this year than the Spence family in Co Down, the mother and two daughters who lost a father and two sons in that terrible accident on their farm back in September. I can’t imagine what they’re going through but my heart goes out to them.
When Nevin Spence died, he left a team behind him as well. Not just a team but a whole club of people who knew him and loved him and who were broken-hearted at his death. The players and staff at Ulster have had to pick themselves up and get on with the season, doing their jobs and carrying on with life in a professional rugby club. They’ve done a great job over the past few months and results have been exceptional, even allowing for the slip-up at Ravenhill against Northampton last Saturday. Nobody looking in from the outside can say what toll it has taken on them but the one thing we know for sure is that it hasn’t been easy.
In Munster, we had a similar sort of experience back in 2006. Conrad O’Sullivan was only 25 when he died tragically in March of that year.
We were just over a week or so short of a Heineken Cup quarter-final against Perpignan in Lansdowne Road and we were due to have a squad session in Thomond Park when the news came through that he had died. Some of the Cork lads knew about it the night before but the rest of us found out that morning.
When you hear about something like that happening, nobody knows what to do next. We had a priest come in and say a few prayers with us in Thomond Park. We didn’t train. We dispersed for a couple of days. We were just going around in shock and disbelief at somebody who was so familiar to us being gone.
Conrad had a lot of ability and a lot of talent. He was getting close to the fringes of the Munster team having come up through Pres Cork, UCC and Cork Con. He was very tight with a group of the younger lads who came out of UCC around the same time – Stephen Keogh, Denis Leamy and Frank Murphy. Those four palled around together a lot and I remember a few months before he died, the four of them went on a night out in Limerick and stayed in my house after it. They were a very close bunch, virtually inseparable. The other guy who was very close to him was Mick O’Driscoll, his first cousin.
So when it happened, those were the guys who became the priority for the rest of us. We lost a team-mate and a work colleague who we all liked but they had lost a best friend and in Micko’s case a family member. Everyone is affected differently by things and it was a very delicate time.