Family's anxious wait as one-punch victim prepares to come out of coma
The family of a Londonderry footballer left fighting for his life after a one-punch attack are "on tenterhooks" as doctors prepare to bring him out of a medically induced coma.
Niall Grace, a midfielder for Institute Football Club, has already undergone major surgery at the Royal Victoria Hospital to relieve swelling and a clot on the brain.
Doctors caring for the Irish League footballer from Derry have warned his family that any progress will come in "small steps".
The results from the most recent scans have shown no change in the condition of his brain since the attack in Derry city centre nine days ago.
Mr Grace suffered serious head trauma and the medics hope to be able to tell his family this week whether there has been any permanent damage to his brain.
While his family have kept a constant vigil at Mr Grace's beside, his manager at the Drumahoe club, Kevin Deery, has stayed in close contact with them.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Deery said: "Niall's family are really on tenterhooks right now because the doctors hope to take him out of his induced coma over the next couple of days.
"The latest scan he had has shown there hasn't been any change in his brain, so it will only be when they have him out of the induced coma that they will be able to say for sure if there has been any damage.
"The family are going through the mill right now and are hoping and praying for good news."
Mr Deery added that unfortunately Niall has developed a chest infection which has put extra pressure on him.
"Doctors did warn the family that any recovery would be in small steps but they are watching for any wee signs at all that he is getting better," he said.
"There was one day Niall became quite agitated when there were visitors in the room and the doctors said it could have been a sign that he was aware of them and recognised their voices, but it was too early to tell for sure.
"Right now they are doing everything they can to help him fight the chest infection and these next couple of days are so important."
Mr Grace, who is from Shantallow, joined the ranks of Institute FC last December, where his warm personality and skill on the pitch endeared him with both team-mates and fans alike.
Mr Deery said everyone at the club is having a tough time and missed their team-mate.
"Niall is sorely missed from both training sessions and matches and it is tough for everyone at the club right now," he said.
"As well as being their team-mate, Niall is friends with the players and they are keen to get to Belfast to visit him, they just want him well again."
A man has been charged with the attack on September 11.
Matthew McDermott (22), of Cornshell Fields in Derry, was granted bail at the High Court in Belfast.