A rising star of the Irish League has suffered a broken nose and gaping head injury in an alleged clash with a high-profile footballer from a rival club.
Glentoran winger Jim O'Hanlon required seven staples to a head wound following the altercation in a Belfast bar.
The 20-year-old – one of the most highly-rated young players in the league – was kept overnight in hospital following the alleged assault on Saturday night.
Mr O'Hanlon, from Belfast, is understood to have been out with friends at the Odyssey complex to celebrate his girlfriend's birthday.
During the night a dispute ensued between Mr O'Hanlon and another footballer, it is claimed.
In the aftermath of the melee, Mr O'Hanlon was left with a broken nose, split lip and a deep gash to his head.
The man accused of launching the attack is well-known in local football circles and plays regularly for one of Northern Ireland's best known clubs.
Police have confirmed they are investigating the incident. No arrests have yet been made.
Mr O'Hanlon was unavailable for comment last night but friends at the club said he was left badly shaken.
"Jim was hospitalised with a gash to his head which needed seven staples, a bust lip and nose," a senior source at the club said.
"He was detained in hospital overnight and only released yesterday morning."
The other player said to be involved in the fracas did not return our calls.
A former director of Glentoran expressed his shock at the injuries sustained by Mr O'Hanlon, and said the alleged attack would cast a shadow across the game in Northern Ireland.
"This is absolutely dreadful," said Jim Rodgers, an Ulster Unionist councillor in Belfast.
"Players need to learn how to behave off the park.
"Sports people should set an example as people who are idolised by fans. This sends out anything but a positive message."
Mr Rodgers described the young player as "level-headed with a big future in the game".
Hours prior to the altercation, Mr O'Hanlon played his part in Glentoran's victory over Portadown in the fifth round of the Irish Cup.
A PSNI spokesman said: "Police received a report on the afternoon of Sunday, January 12 of an assault at a premises in the Queens Quay area of Belfast sometime the previous evening.
"It is reported that a 20-year-old man was assaulted by another man and required medical treatment for his injuries which are not life-threatening."
Mr O'Hanlon will miss Glentoran's game against Glenavon on Tuesday and could be out of football for over a month.
Highly-regarded youngster could carve out pro career
Nicknamed Jinky, Jim O'Hanlon is widely regarded as one of the most promising young players in Northern Ireland.
The 20-year-old winger from Belfast is a regular starter for Irish League giants Glentoran.
Despite his relatively young age, O'Hanlon has made more than 100 appearances for the Glens to date, scoring 12 goals.
This season he has represented the side 14 times, scoring three goals. Such are his talents, many within Irish League circles believe he has the ability to carve out a lucrative professional career in England or Scotland.
Hours before he was embroiled in an altercation which resulted in him being hospitalised, he appeared for the east Belfast club in their Irish Cup game against Portadown. He played in the final of the same competition last season, which his club won, and has been a regular starter for his side during the current campaign.
O'Hanlon moved to Glentoran from Donegal Celtic in 2008.
Having played for Glentoran's under-19s, O'Hanlon made his debut for the first team in 2011.
Since then he has represented the club at European level, taking to the pitch in Europa League qualifying ties.
He was rewarded for his outstanding performances for Glentoran in 2012 when he was awarded a two-year contract by the club.
Saturday's substitute appearance for the Glens was the latest stage in his attempt to get back to full-strength following a recent injury lay-off.
His new injuries are expected to keep him out of the game for at least a month.
Stars can end up seeing stars and even prison bars after night on town
When footballers head out for a night on the town, headlines often follow – even when they do nothing wrong.
One of Northern Ireland's greatest ever players was last year embroiled in an off-field incident which ended up with the star appearing in court.
Record international goalscorer David Healy was cleared of assault after a football fan admitted lying in a bid to smear him.
The fan had claimed he was assaulted by the player during a night out in Belfast city centre.
But last August the fan finally admitted to a court that he misled the Irish Football Association in an attempt to prevent Healy, from Killyleagh, Co Down, playing for Northern Ireland.
Manchester United's George Best was once arrested and charged with assault on a waitress in November 1972, when he fractured her nose in Reuben's nightclub.
The east Belfast native was successfully defended when the case reached court in January 1973 by barrister George Carman QC, a close drinking companion of Best.
Best wasn't so fortunate in 1984, when he was sentenced to three months and spent Christmas behind bars for assaulting a police officer, as well as drink-driving and failing to answer bail.
Another Northern Irish favourite, Keith Gillespie, recently revealed in his book how he took a drunken swing at then Newcastle team-mate Alan Shearer in a Dublin restaurant.
Gillespie had been winding up Shearer by flicking bottle tops at him, and the two ended up taking it outside.
"I took a swing at Shearer, but I was punch-drunk and inaccurate," admitted Gillespie in How Not To Be A Football Millionaire.
"He responded with a blow that sent me flying backwards against a plant pot. I cracked my head and entered the blackout zone."
Last October, a footballer who assaulted two fans in separate attacks in nightclubs was jailed for 18 months.
Sheffield Wednesday striker Gary Madine was convicted of the assaults.
His barrister said that Madine had thrown away his talent due to "drink, childish behaviour and a temper problem".
MY VIEW - Graham Luney
Footballers should be setting good example, both on and off pitch
The news that Glentoran midfielder Jim O'Hanlon has been allegedly assaulted by another big-name Irish League player is a disturbing development for our beleaguered domestic game.
If what is being alleged is correct, it's another problem football here could do without.
Irish League football has fought a constant battle to prevent attacks on its image and reputation from those who ridicule the game, but on this occasion its own personalities are creating shocking headlines.
It's clear that 20-year-old O'Hanlon, one of our brightest young talents, sustained horrific head injuries while socialising at the weekend.
Police investigations will determine what happened, but it's a deeply unsavoury incident.
We all understand that footballers occasionally fail to be the role models many of us expect them to be. Our own favourite footballing son, Northern Ireland and Manchester United legend George Best, was convicted of drink-driving and assaulting a policeman in 1984.
But, thankfully, relations between players at our Irish League clubs have probably never been healthier.
And while there were very isolated attacks on Irish League players in the past, an incident involving two players is extremely rare. I can't recall a similar episode.
Some people will argue that footballers are paid to play football and they should be judged on that alone.
But is this kind of behaviour really a proud example to set to kids who look up to players and often see them as heroes?
Players should remember that any undesirable behaviour not only risks causing significant damage to their career, it also harms the game's image and that of their club.
The Irish League may be a largely amateur set-up, but clubs who give players contracts – in some cases handsome deals – are right to expect a professional attitude off, as well as on, the pitch.
And, of course, any shameful behaviour quickly becomes the topic of conversation on social networking sites. Reputations that can be hard-earned over a period of time can be destroyed very quickly.