Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Cancer-stricken Joe inspires team-mates to victory in cup final

St Columbs College  Ben Doherty  celebrates scoring
St Columbs College Ben Doherty celebrates scoring
Vauxhall School's Cup Finals Day, Ballymena Showgrounds
Vauxhall School's Cup Finals Day, Ballymena Showgrounds

Finding the right motivation to spur a team on to victory can sometimes be difficult.

But an under-16 soccer team from Londonderry was filled with extra determination by a surprise pre-match visitor as they were about to play a final.

The team made it through to the Northern Ireland Schools' Intermediate Cup Final to face St Malachy's, Belfast, at the Ballymena Showgrounds.

Unknown to the boys on the St Columb's College team, their team-mate and friend Joe McColgan had been allowed out of hospital for a few hours to join them.

The 16-year-old has been missing from the team since he was recently diagnosed with leukaemia.

Just as the rest of the team were gathered in the changing room for their pre-match talk, Joe slipped in to join them.

Looks of disbelief were followed by shouts of joy as the boys saw their friend.

Joe has spent the past number of weeks at Belfast City Hospital undergoing intensive chemotherapy treatment. But he felt well enough to leave hospital to travel to Ballymena for the match.

Even if Joe had been too unwell to attend the match, he was still going to be at the heart of the team's thoughts during it. Joe's good friend Eoin McNeil was overjoyed to see his pal in the changing room.

Eoin said: "Me and Joe have been friends since we were about 10 so it was an awful shock when he was first diagnosed, and we all really miss him from the team.

"I had spoken to him on the phone the night before the final and I had no idea he was going to be able to come to the match, so it was just amazing when he walked into the changing room.

"It was brilliant to see his face and made a big difference to us going into the match.

"I had a T-shirt on under my jersey with 'That's for You, Joe' written on it, so win or lose we were doing it for Joe, and some of the other boys had done the same."

Eoin said his friend's appearance "boosted us so much and made us even more determined to win" – which they did.

Just before he had to go back to hospital, a jubilant Joe said: "This is the first time I've been out of hospital in a month, and it's great to see the boys again... especially with them winning the cup.

"Things are going well with me.

"The treatment can take up to two years, but to be honest, time has flown by since I got the news, and seeing the boys with those T-shirts today has really given me a lift."

Eoin said seeing Joe lift the trophy, along with team captain Conor Quigley, "was the icing on the cake".

"Conor scored one of the two winning goals and after the match he gave Joe his medal, that's how much Joe means to our team and we can't wait until he is back with us," he added.

While Eoin and the rest of the boys may not have known about the surprise, St Columb's manager James Green had been in on the secret along with Joe's mother Elaine.

James explained: "It was incredibly emotional to see the look on the faces of the boys when I brought Joe into the changing rooms just before the match."

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