Josh Daniels, who lost five members of his family in the Buncrana pier tragedy, has said the tragic accident has spurred him on to make it in professional football.
Josh suffered unimaginable grief five years ago when he lost his mother Ruth Daniels (57), sister Jodie Lee (14), nephews Mark (12) and Evan (8) McGrotty, and their father Sean (46). The family’s SUV sank after sliding off a slipway at Buncrana in March 2016. The only survivor was Josh’s four-month-old god-daughter Rionaghac-Ann.
The Derry footballer said he drew from his mother’s strong influence to carry on, with the support of his now-fiancée Hannah. Their baby daughter Zahra, he said, has been a saving grace, and he is looking forward to getting married to Hannah this summer.
Speaking on the LOI Arena podcast, Josh reflected on the impact of the tragedy on his football career. The former Derry City and Glenavon player is now signed with Shrewsbury Town in League One.
On the night of the Buncrana tragedy, Josh was in Letterkenny playing a reserve game. When he came home, he realised his family were not back from a day out. When he saw the news, he got a dreaded feeling that it could be them.
“I was shaking,” Josh recalled. “I got to the house and they weren’t there. I rang the police in my mother’s house and said I think my family was the family that was in the accident. They said, ‘let me take your details, how many people, what kind of car?’ I explained to them and the police were in my house within two minutes.”
Josh had to break the news to his brother and sister, and turned his focus to looking after his heartbroken sister Louise and baby Rionaghac-Ann, who was saved from the water by Kerrykeel man Davitt Walsh.
“We were so lucky that Davitt Walsh was passing by, he is an absolute hero.”
Josh said he craved going back to training as a way of returning to normality while his family were in the public eye.
“I just wanted to get on with it and try get into the team,” Josh said on his return to Derry City.
A few months later, he scored his first professional goal against Finn Harps.
Mr Daniels said he was just so “proud” to make the step into full-time football and be given the opportunity to show how far he can go in the game.
“Growing up I always said to my mother that I was going to be a footballer and nothing was going to stop me, simple as,” he added.
“Football brings out the emotion a bit more than speaking about it. Football is my passion so maybe that’s why.”
Josh’s fiancee, Hannah has been his ‘rock’ and his wall throughout everything.
“She’s been through everything with me and I can’t thank her enough. Again, it’s probably one of my motivations to go as far as I can to give her and my daughter the best life.
“I’m not just doing it for me, I’m doing it for my family. It’s a no brainer for me to come over and give everything I have. Even if I fail, she will be the first person to pick mListen to the full podcast at: https://punditarena.com/podcasts/episode-2/?s=09e up.
“She is my support blanket and without her I don’t think I would have come through that night the way I did. I can’t thank her enough.”