ONE of Portadown’s most promising young rugby players has died suddenly.
James McMaster was admitted to Craigavon Area Hospital’s intensive care unit at the start of this week and died on Wednesday - just three days after his 19th birthday.
The civil engineering student had been in hospital for five weeks, initially in the surgical and medical wards, before his condition deteriorated dramatically on Monday.
James had just finished a memorable season on the books at Portadown Rugby Club, having been voted the seconds’ Young Player of the Year during the awards night on April 27.
That evening colleagues took time out from the celebrations to telephone James in hospital and share the good news with him.
James, a former pupil of Moyallon Primary School, Killicomaine Junior High School and Portadown College, also represented the town club in senior fixtures towards the end of the Qualifying League season.
College principal Simon Harper said staff and students were “devastated” by the news.
He described James as a “popular, likeable and pleasant young man” who was “passionate about sport”.
Richard McKimm, James’ seconds’ manager at Portadown Rugby Club, said he was considered a “real prospect”.
“No-one had a bad word to say about James and his reputation was reflected not only in winning the award but the fact that his team-mates wanted to get in touch the night he won it.
“James was part of the touring party earlier in the year which spent time in Scotland and he represented the club superbly on and off the pitch.
“His university commitments at Jordanstown restricted James’ availability for club training but he certainly kept himself in good shape and that desire to improve resulted in a rise into the senior squad towards the end of the season.”
He added. “He was a young man with a bright future.
and, on behalf of the club, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the McMaster family.”
James’ previous rugby education took place during time at Portadown College and the school principal, Simon Harper, was glowing in his praise for both the pupil and the player.
“James studied for four years at Portadown College, leaving us last June to pursue his studies in Engineering at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown,” said Simon. “During his time with us he proved to be a most popular, likeable and pleasant young man.
“He was respected by his peers and staff alike.
“He was a passionate sportsman and represented the College at the highest level, being a valued and talented member of the first XV rugby team.
“Staff and students here are devastated by this tragic news.
“It is particularly sad to note his entry in the Portadown College Yearbook for 2011 indicating that he wished to do something meaningful with his life.
“A great young man who will be very sadly missed, everyone associated with the College would like to extend their deepest sympathies to the McMaster family who have been such true supporters of the school over the years.”
Andrew Symington, the head of boys’ PE at Portadown College, said James was a true role model.
“He played rugby across his school days and started at the College in the thirds before working his way up into the firsts,” said Andrew. “I actually played rugby with James’ father, Jim, during my days at Dromore and know just how much the whole family love sport.
“James had wonderful backing from his parents Jim and Grace but also sister Sarah and brother Aaron.
“Jim actually came along to help out with the school coaching during James’ time at the College and travelled on tour to Barcelona, such was the family passion for sport.
“James worked really hard to develop his game and progressed at prop into one of the most talented players on our firsts.
“He was starting to get the rewards for such dedication to rugby and James should be considered a role model for his approach to sport and school. James was a strong student, particularly in the field of mathematics and it was no surprise to see him pursue a degree in Civil Engineering.
“Everyone has been left feeling totally numb by the tragic news and James was genuinely a true character liked by everyone he met.”
James is survived by father Jim, mother Grace, sister Sarah and brother Aaron.