Man speaks of ‘regret’ after single punch that left footballer critical

Institute's Niall Grace has now recovered from his injuries and has, remarkably, started playing for Institute again
Institute's Niall Grace has now recovered from his injuries and has, remarkably, started playing for Institute again

A man whose punch left an Irish league footballer in a critical condition in hospital has spoken out about the dangers of “stupid fights”.

Matthew McDermott, 20, from Cornshell Fields in Londonderry, had been accused of causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Institute FC player Niall Grace last September.

The charge was withdrawn entirely in Londonderry Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.

A defence barrister said at the time that CCTV footage showed both men throwing a punch before Mr Grace fell and hit his head on the pavement, sustaining serious head injuries.

The incident took place in the Waterloo Street area of Londonderry’s city centre in the early hours of September 11.

Mr Grace was in a critical condition for some time and was placed in a medically induced coma. He had to undergo major surgery at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast to relieve swelling and a clot on the brain.

Remarkably, he has since recovered and has even resumed playing for Institute in the Irish League.

In an interview yesterday with BBC Radio Foyle, Mr McDermott spoke of his regret after learning of the consequences of his punch and urged people to avoid “stupid fights”.

“I regret the punch because of the seriousness of what happened to Niall,” Mr McDermott said.

“I was kept in the Strand barracks overnight and I didn’t find out the extent of the injuries until the next day. I couldn’t believe it. It was complete madness.

“I didn’t think that could ever happen - you always hear about it but I didn’t think it could ever happen to somebody you know. It’s like a freak accident. It’s scary to think of.”
Mr McDermott said that, while he was remanded at Hydebank in Belfast, he was very worried about Mr Grace’s condition.

“All the thoughts were going through my head, if something were to happen to Niall and how serious it could actually have ended up. I was always asking to find out if he was alright, if he was improving or how he was getting on.

“It was just like a stupid argument that came out of nothing much,” he added.

“It’s not worth it when you’re up the town, there’s no need for stupid fights, you just know what can come out of this - my family went through absolute hell.”

Mr McDermott gave the following warning: “You always see stupid arguments, people fighting and all, up the town but just think before you actually take it too far.”