GAA star Aaron Devlin fighting for his life after taking ill during game
A young GAA star is fighting for his life after suddenly falling ill.
Aaron Devlin, who plays for the Ballinderry Shamrocks club, was rushed to hospital after becoming unwell on Friday.
It is understood Aaron - who turned 23 less than two weeks ago - is on a life-support machine after suffering a brain virus.
The news has stunned people in Ballinderry, a rural community which straddles the Tyrone-Derry border.
Prayers and messages of support have flooded in from other clubs.
Ballinderry official Adrian McGuckin described Aaron as "a brilliant footballer", saying the news had left the club in shock.
"It is unreal - a young lad, just 23 years of age. Shock isn't the word," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
Mr McGuckin said Aaron, who has played for the Derry county side, complained of feeling unwell after a match earlier in the week.
"Aaron played for us on Tuesday night in a friendly game against Dromore and he went off because he felt he was lacking energy," he added.
"Then we heard yesterday (Saturday) that he had gone into hospital and had picked up a virus.
"As the evening went on snippets of news kept coming in that things weren't going so well, and again this morning. Unfortunately Aaron is very, very ill."
Four years ago Aaron was rushed to hospital after passing out during a club game.
He made a full recovery and has played for the Derry minors, under-21 and senior sides.
Mr McGuckin described the young forward as a hugely gifted footballer. "Aaron is primarily a forward but he is so good that he can play anywhere," he added. "He is just an absolutely brilliant footballer and a brilliant athlete."
Aaron, who turned 23 on July 14, had recently completed his Masters in physiotherapy and started his first job at the Mid-Ulster Hospital.
The family is well known in GAA circles.
Aaron's two brothers, Coilin and Ronan, have played for Ballinderry. Coilin has also played for the county side. His brothers, sister and parents have been keeping a vigil by his bedside.
Mr McGuckin said the club had been inundated with messages of support.
"A few boys sent a text out about going down to the chapel to pray for Aaron. They were expecting about five or six but when they went down the chapel was half full," he said. "Prayer is the only thing that we can offer at the moment for Aaron and his family, who must be totally devastated."
Aaron was a member of the team that won three Derry senior football championship titles and an Ulster club crown, the latter success achieved under Martin McKinless in 2014.
"This is a terrible blow," said Mr McKinless. "Aaron is a key player in the Ballinderry team and played a big part in its success. To learn that a fit young man in his prime could find himself in hospital with such a serious illness is very hard to take and we are all in shock. Obviously our thoughts and prayers are with the family."
Former Mayo footballer Colin Mortimer was among those to send messages of support.
He wrote on Twitter: "Keep fighting lad, the whole country is praying for you."
Ballinderry Shamrocks called on all members to pray for his family at "this awful time".
Aaron is a former student of the University of Ulster, Jordanstown.
Its GAA team posted online: "Could we ask the entire UUJ family to pray for Aaron Devlin. Aaron took a brain virus on Friday. He's on life support.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Aaron and his family at this sad time. Heartbreaking news."
In September 2011 Aaron, then 19, collapsed after being substituted in a Derry SFC semi-final game at Celtic Park. He underwent tests at Altnagelvin Hospital, but made a full recovery.
Speaking about the incident a few weeks later, he said: "I am not totally sure what the knock was. It was like when you look at the sun; it was blocking the ball and I couldn't see.
"I went over to the management and I said 'look here, take me off, I can't see at the minute'.
"Next thing I know I'm waking up in the ambulance going to Altnagelvin. The doctors said they can't be certain it will never happen again, but it's likely it will never happen again."