Nevin Spence funeral: Tributes paid to rugby player

Tributes paid to rising rugby star Spence after tragic death on farm

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UPDATED:

16:32 GMT, 19 September 2012

A woman who bravely tried in vain to rescue her father and two brothers – one of them rugby player Nevin Spence – when they were overcome by fumes has paid an emotional tribute to them at their funeral.

Emma Spence twice climbed into a manhole and then down into a slurry tank on the family farm near Hillsborough, Co Down, where her father Noel, 58, and brothers Graham, 30, and Ulster Rugby player Nevin, 22, all died at the weekend.

'They were gentlemen,' Miss Spence told mourners at nearby Ballynahinch Baptist Church. They were hard-working men. They were not perfect but they were genuine. They were best friends.

In mourning: Ulster Rugby players and officals arrive the funeral service

In mourning: Ulster Rugby players and officals arrive the funeral service

'They were Godly men – they didn't talk about God, they just did God. They were just ordinary, but God made them extraordinary.'

Miss Spence, who was admitted to hospital after Saturday's accident, was accompanied by her sister Laura, their mother Essie and Graham's wife Andrea at the funeral service.

Members of the Ulster Rugby team carried Nevin's coffin into and out of the church.

Prospect: Nevin Spence was a talented rugby player

Prospect: Nevin Spence was a talented rugby player

Irish rugby coach Declan Kidney and
Tyrone Gaelic football manager Mickey Harte were among other well-known
sporting faces amid more than 2,000 people who attended.

It
is understood the tragedy unfolded when Graham lowered a ladder into
the manhole to retrieve a pet dog which disappeared into the slurry
tank.

Graham's father then
went in to try to save his son and he was followed by Nevin when he
realised the other two were in danger from the poisonous slurry fumes.

Tragedy: The three coffins leave Ballynahinch Baptist church

Tragedy: The three coffins leave Ballynahinch Baptist church

The pastor spoke fondly of rising sporting star Nevin.

He said the young man tipped to represent Ireland at international level did not consider himself a famous rugby player.

The minister recalled an icebreaker
game at a recent church event when Nevin, when asked for a word to
describe himself, chose 'normal'.

'That is really how he viewed himself
and he, like Noel and Graham, attributed his ability to keep his feet
on the ground, his head out of the clouds and his life on an even keel
as directly related to the relationship he had with God through Jesus
Christ,' he said.

Heartbreak: Essie Spence (second right) wife of Noel and the mother of Graham and Nevin Spence

Heartbreak: Essie Spence (second right) wife of Noel and the mother of Graham and Nevin Spence