When the obituaries have fallen silent and the tributes have long since faded into the distant recesses of the mind, when the normal service of rugby begins again. Only the close friends and the Spence family will be left to face the real grief of having lost so many nearest and dearest.

For the rest of us, life will resume an even keel following a week of extraordinary scenes. Even by Northern Ireland standards there was some remarkable out pourings and demonstrations of true sorrow.

I am sometimes reminded of the line from Evita, ‘falling over themselves to get all of the misery right.’ There was, in my opinion, none of that, much of what passed was understated and wrought in a truly courageous manner.

If as seemed to be the case with the Spence family that they have lived their lives in an honest a way as is possible as human beings then there can be no finer tributes than the ones that have come their way last week.

I have been in Nevin Spence’s company for a small time on two occasions and on each occasion I came away impressed by his manner, his respect for people and his general bearing.

He was clearly someone who was brought up in a family home and in a traditional Ulster way to value life, laugh at its foibles and live it in a straightforward way as was possible. Upbringings of this kind are not unique to Ulster but they are a recognisable trait in this small country.

If many of us have not lived our life in an exemplary manner, it may be worth it to pause for a few moments. To reflect on the manner in which the tragedy befell the Spence family and the resultant respect it garnered for those who lost their lives. To reflect however briefly on the manner in which you might wish to be remembered.

Last week was neatly bookended by two contrasting statements, each in their own ways adequately summing up both the frailty and the affirmation of life.

The Ulster captain Johann Muller ended a fulsome tribute to Nevin Spence, culminating with a declaration of ringing sentiment:

In the coming weeks, the Ulster Rugby team will return to the pitch. Over the course of the rest of this year and in future seasons we will experience wins and we will no doubt suffer defeats. Players will move on or retire and new players will come in and represent the Province. But going forward, at Ulster Rugby, one thing will never change. As long as this great club exists, the person and the player, Nevin Spence, will never be forgotten.

Muller admitted in an interview this week, that last week, despite all his years in professional rugby had been the toughest he’d experienced:

Said Muller,

“I’ve been playing for 14 or 15 years now professionally and this is by a country mile the toughest two weeks I’ve ever had in my career.”

There will be few who will disagree.

Before Muller’s wholesome tribute, Rory McIlroy, a sporting star and contemporary of Spence tweeted simply ,in response to the family’s tragedy, ‘makes you cherish every moment on earth’

There will be few who beg to differ on that sentiment.

To SUFTUM or not to SUFTUM

Earlier I mentioned the line from Evita, ‘falling over themselves to get all of the misery right’. As the weekend round of Rabo Pro 12 games ground to a halt there were those on the UAFC messageboard who were measuring the amount of sorrowful outpouring by other teams supporters as exemplified by the singing of SUFTUM.

This seemed rather churlish, as there was absolutely no compunction on other teams supporters to sing it. The idea seemed to originate on Leinsterfans and spread from there to Munsterfans and so on.

Microscopically examining other supporter’s reaction for non conformity using singing a song as a yardstick seemed disrespectful to the spontaneity of rugby supporters in their reaction to the tragic deaths of the Spence family.

In my opinion the reaction of other teams and supporters in the RABO and indeed the Aviva Premiership was outstanding and demonstrated the unique aspect of the rugby family who can recognise an instance of great suffering and react accordingly.

Banish the Blues

The team’s been picked, changes initiated and yet more combinations being inaugurated or trialled. The Blues look strong in the backs but we may just have an edge up front.

Without the consistent Muller it will be tough and I’m unwilling, unlike the Ed, to make a prediction, especially as the Ed’s predicts have been in the main spectacularly unsuccessful.

In fact I wish he hadn’t predicted an Ulster win tonight. All runs of bad luck come to an end of course so let’s hope the Ed’s luck does as well and he comes up trumps and we banish the Blues.

Flags of Dilemma

As if it hadn’t been difficult enough for Rory McIlroy, in the weeks prior to Spence’s death, he found himself under a spotlight for declaring himself British.

Nothing odd about that you might think except he found himself running the gauntlet of the Irish American lobby, and any other number of jobsworth’s who see it as their duty to pigeon hole people on this island.

The Olympics had barely faded to a mote in Seb Coe’s eye than the question arose as to whether Rory McIlroy would be playing for Ireland in the Olympics 4 years from now. The man himself, coming off the back of a golfing triumph was surprised to find some people didn’t want to talk about his sporting achievements.

You see golf has been inaugurated into the Olympics for 2016 and for some it was not a question of whether golf should be there, rather who would Rory Mac represent in the ensuing competition.

Clearly there are those who see this as a chance for Ireland to win a medal, assuming Rory is still interested in golf after earning a zillion more bucks in the ensuing years prior to 2016.

McIlroy is now reconsidering his earlier declaration of allegiance to team GB, no doubt having been got at for not conforming to the stereotype. David Walsh contributed a fatuous article in the Sunday Times about it, claiming Rory owed the golfing Union of Ireland since it was they who had reared him in a golfing sense.

I suppose growing up playing golf in Ireland you don’t have much choice about who you’re affiliated to. It’s the Golfing Union of Ireland or the, er, Golfing Union of Ireland.

Bottom line for me is that certain sections of our society are still obsessed with identity, with people conforming to stereotypes and pigeon holing them whether they want to be categorised or not.

McIlroy maintains a sense of perspective through all of this. I wish him well in the future whatever that may hold for him. Clearly being targeted by the Americans in the Ryder Cup will seem tame compared to the pressure he’s been under in recent times.

Regrettably there’s two sides to Northern Ireland, we saw its compassionate face last week.




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