Former Glenavon ace on making his family proud, playing at Anfield and loving being a dad
Earlier this week Josh Daniels posted a touching picture on his Twitter account of him holding his gorgeous three-year-old daughter Zahra at Anfield after Shrewsbury Town’s FA Cup tie against Liverpool. The Kop provided the backdrop for the snap of a loving dad kissing his little girl.
Derry native Daniels came on for the final few minutes of the third round FA Cup tie and true to form he made an impression. A football workaholic and one of the most selfless and sincere souls you could ever wish to meet, the 25-year-old is well known in Irish League circles for dazzling raids on the wing and spectacular goals from his time with Glenavon.
At Anfield so keen was he to get into the game that he was booked for a challenge on tough Scot Andy Robertson who was forced to leave the field.
Shrewsbury may have lost 4-1 but for Daniels to play at the iconic stadium in front of over 50,000 fans, his fiancee Hannah, Zahra, family and friends was a moment to treasure.
“It was a special day. I kept warming up hoping I would get on even for a few minutes to experience being on the pitch at Anfield,” said Daniels from his home in Shrewsbury.
“When I was called to go on it was an unbelievable moment. I was focused on trying to get a touch or do something and that’s probably where I went a bit rash on Robertson.
“I took a bit slagging for that from Liverpool fans with people saying I’m a United fan but the only clubs I support are Derry City and Glenavon, the sides I played for.
“After the match Virgil van Dijk came into our dressing room to hand one of our boys his shirt and he said ‘you boys were decent today’. He was a top man, an absolute gentleman.
“The whole day was a wonderful experience and to play at Anfield was amazing. To top it off getting a photo in the ground with my daughter was class!”
Daniels says being a dad is the ‘best thing in the world’. He would have been a husband by now but for Covid halting planned weddings in 2020 and 2021 to sweetheart Hannah who has been there for her man through good times and the heartbreak of losing his mum Ruth (57) and his sister Jodie-Lee (14) in the Buncrana pier tragedy in March 2016.
Josh’s sister Louise James’s partner Sean McGrotty (49) and their two boys Mark (12) and Evan (8) also died in the disaster when their car sank after sliding off an algae-covered slipway and entered the Lough Swilly. The only survivor was Josh’s baby niece Ríoghnach-Ann.
“My partner Hannah has been with me the whole time and it is credit to her because it was a tough year after what happened. She went through it all with me and has helped me so much. We now have our beautiful daughter too and we talk about my family all the time to the wee one,” says the Shrewsbury player.
“My mother was my biggest supporter. She hadn’t a clue about football but she always kept me right. When I got to Shrewsbury a couple of years ago I was a bit overwhelmed when I signed my contract and was in the hotel by myself.
“It was an overwhelming emotion because I told her that I would go to England. It was my target and she knew that. So for me to get here was overwhelming. I was proud as well and thinking my mother and family would have been absolutely buzzing for me.
“Being a professional footballer is everything I wanted and we love it in Shrewsbury. Hannah works over here and we are really settled. I’m with the people I love and I love being a dad. It’s the best feeling ever. We couldn’t picture life without her. There is nothing I wouldn’t be willing to do for our daughter.”
Daniels is a genuine guy and a pleasure to be around. Popular in football, he’s also admired outside the sport for how he handled the most painful and harrowing experience.
Asked how he is doing six years on, he responds: “I’m great. Football was my life beforehand and I wanted to get back into two weeks after what happened. I have a responsibility to not let it tower over me. I could crumble or use it and kick on. It’s up to me and I have tried to turn it into a positive.
“All my close friends and family would tell you it was a natural thing for me to get on with my life and not let it affect me.
“I wouldn’t say it was the accident that made me like that. I sort of grew up quite strong willed and always focused and knew what I wanted in life and football was what I wanted to do. Thankfully I got a chance at Derry and Glenavon, then came over to Shrewsbury.
“Obviously it was a very tough time but looking back now the last six years of my life are probably the best six years of my life that I’ve had and I want to try and continue to make my family proud.”
He does that every day by being the person he is. As a footballer he started out at Derry City before moving to Glenavon in 2017 and flourishing under manager Gary Hamilton.
Daniels appreciates the game time he had at Mourneview Park and the opportunities the Lurgan club offered him to showcase his undoubted talent.
He’s too modest to say it but boy did he take them and was wanted by Linfield and Glentoran before Shrewsbury came knocking in the summer of 2020.
“I was delighted I didn’t have to sign for another Irish League club because it would have been strange playing against Glenavon. I have a proper affinity with the fans and the people there were good to me. I was given the confidence to go and express myself,” recalled Daniels.
“Thankfully Shrewsbury came in for me. From day one I knew technically I wouldn’t be far off the lads over here, it was just the fitness side I was nervous about.
“We stopped training at Glenavon in March 2020 when Covid hit and I didn’t do any team training until my first day here in August. I had just been doing fitness stuff so when I went in I was like a kid again thinking ‘I can’t wait to get a touch of the ball’.
“Things went really well at the start. I had the odd niggle but loved it and sort of reinvented myself in the sense that I am not seen over here as a winger. I’ve played centre midfield, as a false nine, right wing-back, left wing back.
“I think I’ve played eight different positions since I’ve been here. It’s been an unbelievable learning experience and everything I wanted and more.”
Told with that versatility he is giving Leeds and Northern Ireland hero Stuart Dallas a run for his money, Daniels laughs, saying: “I don’t know about that. Stuart is the benchmark. He had a similar path to myself coming from the Irish League and now he is in the Premier League which is unbelievable.
“I knew that if I worked harder than everyone else I would have a fair chance. A couple of injuries held me back this season and I was out for seven weeks before Christmas but I’ve worked hard to get back and hopefully I can return to the team and show what I’m about.
“I would never forgive himself if I didn’t give 100 per cent. This is what I dreamed about from I was no age so I’m not going to let it pass me by and if that means running myself into the ground in every game or in training that’s what I’ll do.”