Little Justin Agnew, who lost his pet dog Codie at the weekend, has reason to smile again thanks to an unexpected act of kindness.
The 10-year-old joined his father Martin in the director's box at Windsor Park on Tuesday night to watch Northern Ireland take on Luxembourg.
The family received the complimentary tickets after the Irish Football Association’s Mary Wilmont heard about the death of Codie at the weekend.
The border collie had been fighting for her life after thugs doused the dog in lighter fluid and set her alight last month.
Under advice from the vet who decreed the dog’s burns to be too deep, Codie was put down on Saturday night to prevent any further suffering.
Mary, who is PA to the coaching director, had been following the story in the Belfast Telegraph and was moved by the family’s loss.
“I was so sorry to hear about Codie. My son recently lost a dog too and I know first-hand how devastating it is — it’s like losing a member of the family.
“While reading an article about Codie in the Belfast Telegraph, I noticed a picture of one of the boys wearing a Northern Ireland top, so I asked my boss if we could give them a few tickets to this International match to cheer them up a bit,” Mary said.
Martin said his son was delighted to be given the opportunity to see the match and the news has given the family a reason to smile again.
“My boys are huge Northern Ireland fans.
“The last time I took them to a friendly match, Justin had an asthma attack just after the first goal was scored. We had to watch the last two goals at home. I will definitely be taking an inhaler with me this time,” he laughed.
Martin said his sons have been very down since losing their beloved pet at the weekend.
“Justin has been extremely quiet and Jake cries himself to sleep every night clutching his little Codie teddies.
“It has been a great loss to our family and we all miss her very much.
“She would have been four years old this Christmas and would have had another 10 years ahead of her. It’s just not fair.
“The only consolation is she is not suffering anymore,” the Maghaberry man said.
Martin revealed everyone has been advising the family to get another pup as soon as possible, but he said the loss is still too raw to even think about doing that.
“We live on a farm so there is plenty of room for a dog but it is just too soon. We just couldn’t replace Codie,” he added.
Unfortunately the result of the match didn’t go Northern Ireland’s way with a 1-1 draw with minnows Luxembourg, making qualification for the World Cup that bit harder.