A RASHARKIN man who is in hospital with cancer said he was delighted when well-known former football boss Martin O’Neill, an old friend from school, flew in specially from England to pay him a visit.
59-year-old Gerry Dunlop from Sunnyside Drive is in Antrim Hospital and O’Neill - the former Celtic manager - arrived on an early flight from England and spent a few hours reminiscing with his childhood pal before catching a plane back.
And football-mad Gerry - a big Man Utd fan - also got chatting to another well-known footballing name in the hospital - Brendan Rodgers, the manager of new Premiership team Swansea City.
Brendan’s family is from Carnlough and his dad Malachy was in Antrim Hospital with cancer. When Brendan was in visiting his father he heard about Gerry’s interest in football he popped over to Gerry’s bedside for a chat.
Regarding Martin O’Neill’s visit Gerry - who has four sons Conor, Aidan, Damian and Ryan - explained how Martin knows all about cancer as his wife Geraldine contracted the disease a number of years ago.
Martin also posed for snaps with Gerry, who revealed to the Ballymoney Times that Martin could be back in management as early as October.
Gerry was a bit of a footballer in his day too - and as a teenager went to Coleraine FC for a spell where he played games for the Reserves.
And the football gene has been passed on - Gerry’s son Ryan, who was a Northern Ireland Junior International when with Ballymoney Utd, had a trial with Blackburn Rovers.
Aidan and Damian have played at a number of local clubs - Cullybacky Blues, Ballymena Utd, Dunloy FC, Rasharkin Ath and Ballymoney Olympic) and Conor played at Riada soccer school, then to Ballymena, then down to Coleraine and also played three games for Northern Ireland at under 15 level, Everton and Sunderland both followed his progress for a period.
So when Martin O’Neill popped in to visit Gerry, as well as discussing cancer, football was very much on the agenda and the four lads made sure they were present.
Said Gerry; “I went to primary school with Martin and have kept in touch with him over the years and I was delighted when he came to see me. Martin and I talked about the old days and about football.
“I remember we played football in the school grounds and you could see then Martin was a good footballer ... although he told me I was better than him at that stage!
“He told me how he gave up managing Celtic because of his wife Geraldine’s illness and I asked if he would be back in tooball and he said he will give it to October and if anything comes up he will go for it. Maybe if Utd get off to a bad start he could be there!” said Gerry.
He added: “I really appreciated Martin taking the time to come and see me. He is very down-to-earth and still keeps in touch with people from his time growing up here.”
Gerry also had a chat with Brendan Rodgers and said he was wearing a Man Utd jersey when the Swansea gaffer spoke to him.
“He joked to me to take off the Utd jersey but although I still support Utd I now have a soft spot for Swansea. Brendan talked to me about Swansea and about the money the club will generate from being in the Premiership.
“He also told me about a recent climb up Kilimanjaro in Africa to raise funds for cancer charities,” said Gerry.
Gerry’s sons have organised a football game between the old and young in Rasharkin - possibly at the end of August at Drumbolcan Park - with cash raised to go towards cancer charity. They have secured a signed football from Martin O’Neill and hope to get something from Brendan Rodgers.
REPORT: NEVIN FARRELL.