Belfast Telegraph

'It doesn't get easier': Footballer Josh Daniels opens up on loss of family members in Buncrana pier tragedy


Josh Daniels
Josh Daniels
Ralph Hewitt

Ralph Hewitt

Glenavon footballer Josh Daniels, who lost five members of his family in the Buncrana pier tragedy, has said dealing with the loss “doesn’t get easier and it never will”.

The Londonderry man, who was just 19-years-old at the time of the accident, lost his mother Ruth Daniels (57), sister Jodie Lee (14), nephews Mark (12) and Evan (8) McGrotty, and their father Sean (46), when their SUV sank after sliding off a slipway in Buncrana, Co Donegal, in March 2016.

The only survivor was Mr Daniels’ four-month-old god-daughter Rionaghac-Ann.

Speaking on BBC Radio Foyle on Tuesday, Mr Daniels (23) looked back on the night of the tragedy and explained that he had returned home from Letterkenny after playing a reserve game for his old club Derry City.

After arriving back to an empty house around 7pm, the footballer went to his girlfriend’s but knew something wasn’t right.

“We were watching the TV in her house and we just seen that the media was putting up that there was an accident,” he said.

“My sister rang me about five minutes after I started making conclusions of sorts.

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“My sister was in Liverpool and she hadn’t a clue. It was just a wee bit weird that she rang me and said ‘there’s something wrong’.

“I went home and rang the police myself and gave all the details.”

Knowing that his family was involved in the tragedy that occurred in Buncrana, Mr Daniels said he went into “survivor mode” to make sure his god-daughter was safe.

He admitted that he has used the unimaginable loss as a tool to move forward with his life and the father-of-one is due to get married this year.

“I wouldn’t say it’s got easier and it never will,” he continued. “Time will tell but they’re in my thoughts everyday and I use it positively.”

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Evan McGrotty, aged eight, died alongside his father Sean McGrotty (49), 12-year-old brother Mark, grandmother Ruth Daniels, 59, and her 14-year-old daughter, Jodie Lee Daniels, when their SUV sank after sliding off a "slippery as ice" slipway in Buncrana in March 2016.

Praising football and his home town club Derry City as one of the main reasons he got through his grief, Mr Daniels added that it kept “his head down” and allowed him to focus on something other than the tragedy.

After signing for the Lurgan Blues in August 2017, the talented footballer’s performances have attracted interested from clubs on both sides of the border and across the water.

Reflecting on his move from his beloved Derry City, Mr Daniels believes it was the right time for a fresh start and a new challenge.

“I went there [Glenavon] to play minutes and getting out of the public eye here [Londonderry] helped at that time but even if that [the Buncrana pier tragedy] didn’t happen I probably would have made the same move,” he stated.

“Stepping away from my home town and going away and playing [helped me mature]. I’ve a family, I’ve a daughter, I’m going to get married.

“I think I’ve matured massively and maybe not by my own doing but it had to be done.”

Looking to the future, the Irish League player hopes that the next step in his career will see him achieve his dream of playing full-time football.

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