Irish League legend Roy McDonald shares pain at losing three brothers

Roy McDonald
Roy McDonald

Roy McDonald

By Graham Luney

January 18 2019

Irish League legend Roy McDonald has revealed how he coped with the deaths of three brothers, including former Northern Ireland and Queens Park Rangers captain Alan.

Alan, who steered Glentoran to their last championship success in 2009, died suddenly in June 2012 at the age of only 48.

Roy feels his death was “preventable”.

His passing was not the first personal tragedy for Roy. Another brother, Ian, died in 1986 at the age of 19 after suffering a brain haemorrhage.

And Roy and his sister Linda had to say an emotional farewell to a third brother last October when Jim passed away.

In an interview for our Footballers’ Lives series, the 66-year-old Crusaders stalwart reflects on how his family have suffered painful loss.

He gave 46 years service to the north Belfast club as a goalkeeper and coach, playing a part in their seven league championships before retiring following the 2018 Gibson Cup triumph.

The McDonald Centre, a community hub named in his honour, has just opened at Crusaders’ Seaview home.

But while he has cherished memories from a remarkable football career, including playing against Barcelona and Liverpool in big European battles with Distillery and Crusaders, they are tinged with sadness due to the tremendous heartache the family have endured.

“Ian died aged 19 with a brain haemorrhage in 1986 and there’s now a supporters’ club named after him, the Ian McDonald Supporters Club,” he explained.

He received news that Ian, 15 years his junior, had collapsed when he was on the sidelines of a match in Portadown. He was asked to come home urgently.

Alan was playing for QPR, and came over from England to be at his brother’s hospital bedside.

As Ian’s condition appeared stable, Alan returned to prepare for the London side’s next game.

By the following Saturday, however, his condition worsened and Alan travelled back to Belfast – but unexpected developments at Seaview left Roy with a terrible dilemma.

“Tommy Jackson had been sacked as Crusaders manager and I had to take the first team to Coleraine,” he said.

“It was an unbelievable time and it was a blur, but who else was going to be caretaker manager?

“Ian’s death was a huge shock. But by the Saturday morning we knew he hadn’t much time left and QPR pulled Alan out of the game and sent him home, while I went to Coleraine. It was all very sad.”

Roy, who is married to Heather, says he also believes Alan’s death from a heart attack while playing at Temple Golf Club near Lisburn in 2012 could have been avoided.

“Billy Beggs, who was a good friend of Alan’s at QPR, passed away and Alan was organising the funeral with the help of the Professional Footballers’ Association,” he added.

“Alan had also been going through emotional torture while Glentoran manager. Supporters were on his back and his health wasn’t good.

“Doctors had warned him about his blood pressure and more tests could have found the blocked arteries in his heart.

“That’s why I feel his death was preventable. My mum Pat and dad Bobby have passed away as well.

“Jim, a former Irish international basketball player, had health issues before he passed away last year.”

The goalkeeping legend also talks about how his Christian faith has kept him strong during the hard times.

Belfast Telegraph

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