Josh Daniels' emotional team-mate exchange on losing five family members in pier tragedy

Josh Daniels has opened up on an emotional exchange with his Shrewsbury Town team-mates, recalling his account of the Buncrana Pier tragedy, which claimed the lives of five members of his family.

Josh Daniels of Shrewsbury Town.
Josh Daniels of Shrewsbury Town.

March 20 marked the fifth anniversary of the incident, where a car carrying Daniels' mum Ruth, sister Jodie-Lee, nephews Mark and Evan and their father Sean McGrotty plunged into Lough Swilly in County Donegal.

The only survivor of the incident was Daniels' four-month-old god-daughter Rionaghac-Ann.

The winger, who had just turned 20 and was turning out for hometown club Derry City at the time, has since spoken of how the period since the tragic accident has helped him mature and find escapism through his football career, while wanting to make his family proud.

But Shrewsbury's Northern Irish star, who made the position of right wing-back his own in recent weeks before a calf injury, has said that the grief 'doesn't get easier and never will'.

Daniels, 25, was brought to England by former Shrewsbury boss Sam Ricketts last summer from Glenavon – whom he was playing part-time football for having joined from Derry in 2017 – achieving his lifelong dream of breaking through as a professional in the English Football League.

The winger-turned-wing-back, who lives in Shrewsbury with his fiancée Hannah and young daughter Zahra, spoke to his new Shrewsbury team-mates about the incident while on an away trip with Town at the beginning of the season, a couple of months after his move.

Josh Daniels of Shrewsbury Town.

He admitted to finding the first couple of months in England, away from Hannah and Zahra, and amid the Covid-19 restrictions, a challenge.

“It was on an away trip and it was a couple of weeks or months after I signed, maybe two months," Daniels, who penned a two-year deal at Montgomery Waters Meadow last summer, told the LOI Arena podcast.

"Sam Ricketts, who signed me, obviously knew about the story. And Brian Jensen is here as the goalkeeping coach, he’s the former Crusaders goalkeeper so he knows me. They knew. None of the players knew. One or two of the players I would be closer to knew as I told them.

“I was just telling my story about my career and personal life and it came up. I don’t get choked up but that night I got choked up a bit. It was the same when I signed here.

"I haven’t felt emotional in a long time. The first real time I felt myself break down emotionally was in the hotel here when I signed. I was just so proud to get here, I always wanted to get to England."

Daniels was playing in a reserve fixture on the day of the tragedy and, in the podcast, recalls the 'blurry' few hours in between hearing about an incident via the news and social media, and discovering the extent of what had happened.

He was keen to return to football after the incident that changed his life.

The winger, who grew up amid Gaelic football-obsessed friends, scored his first professional goal for Derry City against Finn Harps in front of TV cameras and a full house at Brandywell Stadium that May, less than two months later.

“It was hard speaking in front of them (Shrewsbury team-mates) all but I think it gives them a but more admiration towards me and my worth ethic.

"At Derry City before this happened," added Daniels, whose wedding with Hannah is set to go ahead in Ireland in May, after a 12 month delay due to the pandemic, "I was always the flair player, the tricky winger who never really tracked back as much and didn’t work as hard off the ball.

Shrewsbury's Josh Daniels has made right wing-back his own, but admits he was more of a tricky winger in his Derry days (AMA)

"When I went to Glenavon I completely changed my game and it’s the same here. I’m making sure I do everything in my power because I don’t want to have any regrets."

It was Daniels' athleticism, as well as a hunger and desire to succeed, that led to Ricketts' Shrewsbury replacement Steve Cotterill admitting he saw something he liked in the winger not long after taking over.

But it took a while for Daniels to find his role, eventually filling in at right wing-back, where he enjoyed a run of eye-catching standout performances.

He has now made 24 appearances, including 11 starts, in his debut season in England, and managed two goals.

The Town man admits mum Ruth was his biggest fan, a 'powerful' mother whose influence rubbed off on the youngster, who was one of six children.

“She was a single parent and there’s six of us,” said the former Northern Ireland youth international.

“So growing up and having that powerful mother, standard Irish powerful mother who kept our family together all the time and having that influence on my life has rubbed off on me. She would always say I was hot-headed and when I was younger I probably was but it’s just that drive to be a footballer.

"Growing up that’s all I said to my mother was ‘I’m going to be a footballer. Nothing’s going to stop me, as simple as’. I think football brings out my emotion rather than speaking about it. When I bring out that side, football is my passion so maybe that’s why."

Josh Daniels celebrates his recent headed goal in the 2-0 win at Rochdale, which was his second goal for his new club (AMA)

To his credit, Daniels has come a long way in the intervening years and admits he has enjoyed some of the best times of his life, as well as learning a crucial life lesson, to not take anything for granted.

“My missus is my support blanket," Daniels said of Hannah. "She probably doesn’t get enough praise. But without her I probably couldn’t have got through it. She’s my rock.

"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.

Daniels added: “There’s nothing I can do that’s going to change anything. I’ve said openly in the past, since it’s happened I’ve probably had the best years of my life.

"I’ve got engaged. I’ve moved out to my first house. I’ve had my daughter. I’ve now moved here and to be honest if it hadn’t have happened I don’t know if I would’ve kicked on with all those things straight away.

"It gave me that extra edge and motivation to do whatever I want in my life. You don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s one thing I’ll take from that night. People never really think that things like this could happen to them and I was one of those people.

"It’s probably changed me for the best to be honest. It was a crazy time in my life. I’ve gone on and really matured as a person and a man and as a footballer I just take nothing granted anymore.”

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