Northern Ireland

Cliftonville’s Chris Curran reunited with Co Down schoolgirl who was his mascot six years on from her brain tumour diagnosis

The pair met again after Cliftonville FC celebrated their Irish Cup win on Saturday

Ciara McVeigh, pictured with Cliftonville footballer Chris Curran in 2018 and earlier this week
Ciara McVeigh, pictured with Cliftonville footballer Chris Curran in 2018 and earlier this week

The last time Co Down schoolgirl Ciara McVeigh accompanied footballer Chris Curran onto the pitch for the Irish Cup final, his team were defeated and she was suffering from a brain tumour.

Fast forward six years and the pair have been reunited in far happier times - with the Cliftonville skipper clutching the winning Irish Cup trophy and Ciara now on the road to recovery.

It was a friendship that began after Ciara, then aged five, and her family were dealing with the impact of her diagnosis of pilocytic astrocytoma on the back of her brain.

Diagnosed in September 2017, just days later the Newcastle youngster underwent major surgery to have the tumour removed.

Recalling the ordeal, Ciara’s father Ronan told The Irish News: “She had only started primary 1 and kept being sick.

“We took her to the hospital three times and she was sent home each time, but we knew she wasn’t right.

“Then on the 17th September, I got a call from school saying she was being very sick. I arrived and the principal was walking the corridors, he was as white as anything.

“He took me into the classroom and the teacher was lying down with Ciara lying with her, she was really unwell.”

Ronan and his wife Carolynne took their daughter to hospital again, where this time she was admitted and underwent a CAT scan.

“Carolynne was with her and after the scan all the doctors ran into one room,” he said.

“She ran in and said, ‘what’s wrong’ and they said it’s a brain tumour. That was Friday and she was booked in for surgery on Monday.”

It was that weekend ahead of the surgery Mr McVeigh reached out to Chris Curran.

“We had just two days to prepare for it, we were in so much shock,” he said.

“That weekend Cliftonville were playing Linfield, so to try and keep us all busy I took our two boys to Solitude to watch the match.

“Cliftonville scored a late winner to win 3-2 and the boys loved it, so I ended up messaging Chris on social media to say how much it had cheered us up.

“I explained the whole scenario of what was happening with Ciara and we kept in touch. He said as soon as she’s fit to bring her to a match.

“He stuck to his word and asked her to be mascot in the Irish Cup semi-final and final too.”

Now aged 11, Ciara was reunited with the footballer after his side lifted the Irish Cup on Saturday.

“On Monday we went to see the team in Belfast, Chris looked down from the top of the bus and spotted us and came straight down,” he said.

“Ciara was so happy to see Chris and to have the Irish Cup was fantastic.

“He’s a gentleman, what he does for the club is fantastic, he’s such a great ambassador.”

Clearer Water Irish Cup Final
Cliftonville Fans  during this Afternoon’s game at NFS @ Windsor Park, Belfast.  
Photo - Andrew McCarroll/ Pacemaker Press
Chris Curran of Cliftonville after winning the Irish Cup at Windsor Park in Belfast. PICTURE: ANDREW MCCARROLL/PACEMAKER

Mr McVeigh also said his daughter’s health has improved.

“She had surgery in 2017 and in 2019 as the tumour returned but she’s doing tremendous, we’re very proud of her,” he said.

“Chris always kept in touch with us to see how she was doing, we’re grateful to him and Cliftonville for the support over the years.”