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“I just checked Facebook and the news and saw that there had been an accident in Buncrana”

“It wasn’t natural, it wasn’t normal, it was such a tragedy, it was really hard for people to get their heads around.”

On episode two of LOI Arena, the new podcast about the League of Ireland and Irish football from Con Murphy, Conan Byrne and Pundit Arena, the lads spoke to Joshua Daniels, who reflected on an unimaginable tragedy that befell his family five years ago.

Buncrana Pier tragedy.

Daniels was a 20-year-old footballer for his hometown team Derry City when he lost five members of his family in a devastating incident in Buncrana, Donegal. In March 2016, Joshua’s mother Ruth (59), younger sister Jodie-Lee (14), two nephews Mark (12) and Evan (8), and his brother-in-law Seán (46) lost their lives when their car slid off the algae-covered slipway and into the water at Buncrana pier.

Before the car sank under the waters of Lough Swilly, Seán, Joshua’s brother-in-law, handed his four-month-old daughter Ríoghnach out of the window to Davitt Walsh, a passer-by who had swum out to the sinking car to try help. Ríoghnach was brought to safety, but no one else in the car made it back.

Joshua, who currently plays for League Two side Shrewsbury Town, reflected on the tragedy that struck his family with Con and Conan. He spoke to them about how he found out the terrible news and how football has greatly helped him in the weeks, months, and years since.

LOI Arena: Joshua Daniels reflects on the Buncrana pier tragedy.

“I was actually playing a reserve game in Letterkenny that day,” Joshua said.

“I just came home and I knew my mother was watching the children at the time. And I came home and she just wasn’t there. I went to my missus’ house. At seven o’clock, I rang back over and asked my brother was there anybody home yet. He said, ‘No, they’re not there.’ They were gone all day and I just wanted to see her because I was staying in my missus’ house. My sister was on a hen do at the time in Liverpool…

“I just checked Facebook and the news and saw that there had been an accident in Buncrana, a car went in. But there was no make, no vehicle type, no (details about the number of) people. It was never confirmed.

“I just looked at my missus and just said, ‘They were in Buncrana today because they usually go there for food on a Saturday or a Sunday. I think this could be them’. I just had a weird feeling. And then, two seconds later, I had a phone call from my sister in Liverpool, who was panicking about them not answering the phone. And I was like, ‘She’s basically just confirmed it to me.’ She didn’t know about the accident at this stage, she never knew, she hadn’t checked Facebook.

“So, I just had to say to her, ‘Look, don’t panic’, and I just put my phone down and jumped into my car and drove home. I lived about 10 minutes from my missus’ house and I can’t even remember driving back, I was that in shock. I wasn’t stopping, just driving through lights. I was shaking.

“I got to the house and they weren’t there. I rang the police in my mother’s house. I said, ‘Look, I think my family was the family that was in the accident.’ They took my details, and rang back within two or three minutes, and confirmed it.

Joshua Daniels: It was really hard for people to get their heads around.

“I let my oldest brother know. He and my other brother travelled down to the scene and when I was on the phone and I basically knew at that stage in my heart of hearts. I had to ring my sister because she was boarding a plane at that time. I just had to keep her sane all the way home. They confirmed it. My brothers were at the scene and they confirmed it as well.

“It was a bit crazy from then on, it was just a blur for two or three weeks. I got my sister home and just tried to look after her. And obviously, Ríoghnach, the child in the car, who’s doing really well now, so we were so lucky that Davitt Walsh was passing by. He’s an absolute hero.

“Even during the time of the wake, as crazy as it sounds, the only thing I wanted to do was go back to training. I just wanted to get back to normality. Because it was so public and the media were all over it, it was a hard time for my sister. At that stage, it was more about protecting her and keeping her sane because I moved in with her that night. It was crazy, hectic, non-stop 24/7 people at the house.

“It wasn’t natural, it wasn’t normal, it was such a tragedy, it was really hard for people to get their heads around.”

Joshua Daniels: Football was my escapism after family tragedy.

Joshua spoke about how football, and everyone at Derry City, helped him cope in the weeks and months after the tragedy. The winger, now 25, is currently a regular for Shrewsbury in League Two. He says the family tragedy now gives him “that extra motivation to do whatever I want with my life.”

“For me, just getting back then… Kenny (Shiels), and all the boys at Derry City, and the fans and the club really look after me at the time,” he said.

“It’s one thing that I will never forget. I just said to Kenny, ‘I need to come in and I need to train. I need to get back, and I don’t want you to treat me any different than you did. I don’t want you to be moping about for me.

“I don’t want sympathy from anyone, I just wanted to get on with it and try to get into the team, because I wasn’t really playing much at the time. I scored my first goal a few months later.

“It was a really special time for me the months after to just get in and play a bit more football, and I’m glad I went back as soon as I did because it was a form of escapism.”

You can listen to the full interview here.

LOI Arena is the new home for great League of Ireland discussion. Each week Con and Conan will take to the mic to analyse the highs and lows from the Greatest League in the World. The lads are joined by great guests each week who share a passion for all things LOI and Irish Football.

Episode 2 of LOI Arena is free to listen to here. The lads are joined this week by former Derry City and Glenavon player Josh Daniels who talks life with Shrewsbury Town in League Two and how the 2016 tragedy in Buncrana affected his life and career.

The podcast will form part of a new membership offering from Pundit Arena that focuses on Irish soccer fans for just €3.99 per month, less than a euro per week.

Fans can sign up or register to listen for free at https://punditarena.com/loiarena

You can also follow the show on Twitter and contact us via email at [email protected].

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