Grandsons of Loughinisland survivor led teams onto pitch for World Cup play-off

Mark Valentine with his son Callum (left, in white) and his nephew Louis Lennon (right, in green) before the match at the Aviva Stadium, where the cousins acted as mascots

THE family of a survivor of the Loughinisland massacre has told how he would have been "the proudest man out" after two grandsons helped lead out the teams for the Republic of Ireland's World Cup play-off this week.

Callum Valentine (12) and six-year-old Louis Lennon were selected to walk onto the pitch before the crucial game against Denmark in Dublin - more than two decades after the gun attack on the Heights Bar during a World Cup game.

The boys' grandfather, Brendan Valentine, died from cancer in April at the age of 68.

In June 1994, he survived the shooting in Loughinisland when six men were killed by loyalists as they watched the Republic play Italy in a World Cup group game in that year's tournament.

The atrocity and subsequent search for truth by victims' families are the subject of an acclaimed film which has been playing in cinemas this month.

Callum, a pupil at St Patrick's Grammar School in Downpatrick, accompanied Hull City player David Meyler onto the turf at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night, while his cousin Louis - of St Francis' PS, Aghaderg - was a mascot with the Danish team.

Mark Valentine said his father would have so proud to have seen his grandsons lead the teams onto the pitch.

The pair were selected as mascots after Mark's aunt, Maeve Lowry from Tipperary, wrote to the Football Association of Ireland.

Mr Valentine said: "She asked if they could accompany the teams, after all that had happened this year with dad's passing and the release of the film. The FAI said they would be delighted to have the two lads.

"I remember sitting in front of the TV as a kid thinking that I would love to do that."

While the Republic's 5-1 defeat on Tuesday dashed their hopes of making next summer's finals in Russia and made it a night to forget for many fans, Mr Valentine said Callum had enjoyed a "once in a lifetime experience".

A player for both Loughinisland GAC and Kilmore Rec football club, Callum's father added that is in no doubt about his son's first sporting love.

"He is a Gaelic man through and through," he joked.

The documentary No Stone Unturned was released earlier this month and names three people suspected of involvement in the Loughinisland attack, as well as the wife of a suspected gunman.

Oscar-winning film maker Alex Gibney spent years working alongside former Irish News journalist Barry McCaffrey on the film.

In June 2012, during a match against Italy at the European Championships, the Republic team wore black armbands to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the massacre.

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