Visibly shaken and, like many others, finding it hard to maintain his composure, Ulster director of Professional Rugby, David Humphreys, spoke on Sunday of the great loss Nevin Spence would be to not just the Irish Province but the game in general.
The 22-year-old’s life was tragically ended on Saturday evening, along with that of his father, Noel, and elder brother, Graham, in a dreadful accident on the home farm near Hillsborough.
Humphreys described Spence as ‘a dream player to work with’, ‘a player with a huge potential’ and that as the club moved forward over the next decade ‘Ulster would be a poorer place without him.’
As Ulster fans and friends of the Spence family were paying their own personal tributes at Ravenhill yesterday, Humphreys was trying to express how the devastating events of Saturday’s tragedy were felt by the club and how they would deal with a situation no one ever wanted to face.
At a special news conference Humphreys said he and the professional players and team management were devastated by the loss of Nevin.
He said: “Our prayers and sympathies are with the Spence family at this moment in time.
“In my role at the club, Nevin was a dream player to work with. He was one of those players when you sat down with him to talk about what his future held and where he saw his future going he had a very simple answer.
“He was born in Ulster, he came through school in Ulster, he played rugby for Ulster and all he wanted to do for the remainder of his career was to stay here and win trophies and be successful with Ulster.”
Recalling when a young Spence came into the Ulster Academy in 2008, Humphreys said he took a personal interest in the young starlet as it coincided with his decision to retire from the game.
He said: “I remember sitting down with Gary Longwell not long after I started my job and we were talking about our succession plan and where we were going to go as a squad.
“He (Gary) said one of the players that will come through and play for Ireland is Nevin Spence.
“Unfortunately with the events of the last 24 hours that is never going to come to that point.
“For all of you that have followed Ulster rugby and Nevin’s career on the pitch, what you saw is what you got from Nevin.
“He brought his commitment, passion and his enthusiasm every time he played, not just when he played but also when he turned up for training.
“Talking to some of the players over the last 24 hours, Nevin, on days when nobody else wanted to come and train, was there leading from the front.”
Humphreys added: “He played a central role in our success on the pitch over the course of the last three years but probably more importantly in terms of what we were trying to develop in the culture of Ulster rugby Nevin was the epitome of what we were looking for.
“The characteristics that he showed when he played were very much transmitted into how he conducted himself off the pitch.
“He was always first into training, when we asked him to do commercial and corporate duties, things that players don’t particularly enjoy, he was the first person to volunteer.
“It didn’t matter whether his was playing for his club, the Ulster Ravens as he was last Friday night, or the senior team. Everyone knew Nevin was going to come and perform to his very best.
“From my prospective and from the players’ prospective Nevin will leave a huge hole in our squad and as we move forward over the next decade I have no doubt that Ulster will be a poorer place without him.”
Humphreys added: “When you are trying to put together a squad first and foremost you look at what the player brings in a rugby sense, but in terms of trying to bring success, it’s also about what happens off the pitch.
“Over the last couple of years we have tried to build a squad of people that perform very well but more importantly conduct and represent themselves and our organisation very strongly in everything they do, and Nevin was the epitome of that. He did everything to the best of his ability.
“Nevin had huge potential. At 22 he’d played over 40 times for Ulster, he had played a number of games for the Irish Wolfhounds.
“One of my standout memories was when he produced a man of the match performance at Ravenhill against England and against Manu Tuilagi. It was a sensational performance that day.
“A few months before that in Ulster’s Heineken Cup game in Bath there is a photograph of Nevin scoring in the top corner at the Rec landing on his head.
“To me that summed him up. He put his personal safety above anything else and it was all about team and all of us are struggling to come to terms with what has happened.
“For those people who have followed Nevin’s Facebook and Twitter over the last number of years they will have seen the enthusiasm and passion he brought to life on the pitch and life away from the pitch.
“I think it’s just not the rugby family, there is a sporting family as well. We all come into sport understanding what it is about and there are certain things that happen that none of us could ever come to terms with.
“We all watched the outpouring of grief that happened around Gary Speed recently and I think Shane (Logan) and I never thought we’d be sitting here facing the same sort of problem and we are struggling.
“It’s much too early to think about rugby and it is much too early to think about sport.
“This is much greater than anything else.
“Over the next few days and next few weeks it’s about providing support to the different people involved in this.
“There is no doubt it is a mountain to climb and we are not ready to climb that mountain yet.”