Loughgiel pulls as one as hurling stronghold suffers week of anguish
When Sunday's Antrim semi-final hurling match between Loughgiel Shamrocks and Ruairi Og of Cushendall was abandoned after a fan suffered a heart attack, it was just the beginning of a week of anguish.
The close-knit community in the small Co Antrim village has been stunned by a triple blow.
First, Paddy Watson, father of Loughgiel star Liam Watson, collapsed and was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for surgery.
Then, on Monday, Anne McFadden, the mother of Liam's clubmate Odhran McFadden, died.
Described as "a faithful Loughgiel supporter who never missed a game", she was buried yesterday.
Wednesday brought more heartache with the death of John Reid, aged only 21, the son of local businessman Liam Reid, a major sponsor of the Shamrocks club.
Mr Reid, a former youth player with Loughgiel, died from injuries he sustained in a car crash on August 30.
Loughgiel Shamrocks manager PJ O'Mullan told the Belfast Telegraph: "It's been a tough time for everyone. Everyone is just trying to come to terms with it,
"The only glimmer of good news is that Paddy Watson, who suffered a heart attack at the hurling game against Cushendall last Sunday, is on the mend.
"He had surgery in the Royal Victoria Hospital and has now been transferred to hospital in Coleraine.
"We'll see how he progresses - if he's up to it, they'll likely send him home.
"But if he's not they'll probably keep him in.
"But the surgery was a success.
"There were plenty of people about when it happened and he was able to get help very quickly.
"He was lucky in one sense - unlucky that it happened, but lucky that there were plenty of medics about.
"If he'd been in his house on his own it might have been a different story."
Mr O'Mullan said it had been a dreadful week for the club and the local community
"It's been a difficult few days - and now we have John Reid's funeral coming on Saturday.
"Well just do what wee parishes do.
"We dig in and we help each other out.
"We're always there for each other, and I guess that's just what we'll do again.
"You just have to let people know you are there, and if they need you they can come to you, and you'll do your best for them."
The abandoned match against Cushendall will go ahead this Sunday, according to Mr O'Mullan.
"It's a game of sport. We'll be trying our best to win, but if we don't win, well it's not the end of the world, we can always have another go.
"Sport will always be there."
The Cushendall team was also left shocked when Hugh McManus, father of player Neil McManus, suffered a heart attack this week - and ended up in the next hospital bed to Mr Watson.
Both men had stents fitted by medical staff.
At the replay in Dunloy on Sunday, players from both teams will take up a collection for the NI Chest Heart & Stroke charity.
"Given the two heart attacks, it seemed like the right thing to do," said GAA spokesman Sean Fleming.