Young footballer Warwick's skull fractured in brutal assault near Belfast nighclub
Winger requires 12 staples in his head after being assaulted on way home from night out
An Irish League footballer is in hospital with a fractured skull after a weekend attack outside a Belfast city centre nightclub.
Ards midfielder Gary Warwick was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital for emergency treatment for the serious head injury, which required 12 staples.
He also suffered bruising on his brain and a broken nose.
Although very little is known about the attack, his family and friends said they were completely shocked and sickened that such a thing would happen to "a nice, quiet lad like Gary".
The former Cliftonville and Donegal Celtic player was rushed to hospital after the incident in Patterson's Place, near Thompson's nightclub, as he made his way home from a night out with friends.
He had celebrated his 25th birthday on March 13.
Ards manager Niall Currie said Gary was an important part of the team and that although he would be out for the rest of the season, the club hoped to welcome the winger back to training as soon as he recovered.
"I have just been up seeing him and he's not in a great way with 12 staples to the back of his head," added Mr Currie (43).
"His parents were there and everyone is concerned for him and wanting to visit him.
"There was bruising to his face and head and he was drowsy with all the medication he's on, but hopefully in around three or four days he will get out and on the road to recovery.
"We are all just wanting him to get well.
"Gary is such a great lad - he's a very quiet person, very pleasant and respected by the team -and to hear this was a shock for everyone.
"He's the sort of guy who just gets on with people and looks after his business.
"He really is such a nice guy and it's sickening to everybody that this has happened to him."
Mr Warwick joined the team from Donegal Celtic during the summer of 2014.
Last season he scored 11 goals in 31 games, including a memorable free-kick against big rivals Bangor on Boxing Day in a 3-2 win.
His team-mates said they were hoping he would be back at Clandeboye Park as soon as possible.
"He's an integral part of the team," added Mr Currie.
"It's sad really that a night out with friends can end like that. It's a sign of the times I suppose, but it's still sickening because Gary is such a good guy. Things were really on the up for him.
"He has a really lovely family and beautiful girlfriend who he's all loved-up with, and he was doing well at the club.
"We are all going to rally round him to help him as much as possible and hopefully that will help him get back on his feet.
"Maybe he'll feel up to coming along to support us, or when he's better maybe get back to training. We're looking forward to getting him back in the squad.
"We're all looking forward to seeing him and all his teammates and people at the club are rooting for him for him to make a full recovery."
The PSNI confirmed that a 36-year-old man was arrested following the alleged assault but released on police bail pending further enquiries.
This season Warwick has played 24 games for the Red and Blues, registering four goals.
Since news of the assault broke concerned friends have been sending him their best wishes on social media.
Pal Kevin Johnston posted: "Get well soon Gaz. We're all thinking about you mate."
Gary Haire was disgusted to hear the news. "Terrible thing for that lad to go through hope he makes a full recovery," he wrote.
Darren Johnston posted: "Get well soon Gary Warwick, great player and good fella."
Wayne Ewart added: "Get well soon Gary! I know Ards will do the business for you and win the league! Come on the Ards!"
And Gerard McErlean wrote "Just heard what happened mate shocking! Wish you a speedy recovery and hope to see you back on the pitch again in no time!"
Ards will be crowned Championship One winners, claiming promotion to the Premiership if they can claim a victory against Knockbreda on Thursday night.