Northern Ireland news

Girlfriend of Newry Mitchels GAA player Karl Heaney to host anniversary fundraiser match

Ciara Sands has organised the event to celebrate the life of her boyfriend Karl Heaney

THE girlfriend of a Co Down GAA player who lost his life in a road crash on the notorious A1 carriageway is to host a charity fundraiser match to mark the first anniversary of his tragic death.

Former Armagh and Down county players will return to the field on Saturday to celebrate the life of Karl Heaney.

A GAA player with Newry Mitchels GFC, he died in a two-vehicle collision between Banbridge and Dromore on May 23 last year. The 27-year-old from Warrenpoint, who was a classroom assistant at Aquinas Grammar School in Belfast, had been travelling home from training when the crash happened.

His girlfriend Ciara Sands said she hoped the memorial match would mark Mr Heaney's life as well as help in her campaign to get the A1 carriageway upgraded.

"We wanted to do something to remember Karl, a big celebration of his life and something positive on what will be a sad occasion," she said.

Read More: Emotional day for Aquinas Grammar after death of coach Karl Heaney

With Armagh and Down set to compete against each other in the Ulster Championship at Paírc Esler on May 19, a special pre-match showdown will be held the day before.

The Karl Heaney Marvellous Memorial Match will see former Armagh and Down county players compete against each other in memory of Mr Heaney as well as raising funds for two local charities.

"It has kept me busy, especially coming into the month of May when I knew Karl's anniversary was coming up," said Ms Sands.

Read More: Girlfriend of GAA player killed in A1 crash launches petition for road improvements

"We wanted to do something that reflected some of Karl's favourite things. He was heavily into his Gaelic football and played for Newry Mitchels so we thought a Gaelic match would be the great.

The event to celebrate the life of Karl Heaney will be held on May 18

"Karl was also really into the Marvel comic books, so we have used that as a theme and called the teams, Armagh Avengers and Down Defenders."

Several ex-county players are taking part, including Benny Coulter, Steven McDonnell, Mickey Linden, Shane Mulholland and Justin McNulty.

"We were so touched that they all agreed so easily to take part, they were all so willing to help," she said.

"They are going to get back into their county colours, which is great.

"We are raising funds for two local charities, Road Safe NI Newry Mourne and Down and Head Injury Support Newry, which have both been so good to us since Karl's death.

"We want to recognise both charities and thank them for the support they've given us, they do such great work.

Read More: Girlfriend of GAA player killed in A1 crash launches petition for road improvements

"They need funds as they aren't recognised as much as other charities so we hope to give something back to them in thanks for all their wonderful work."

Ms Sands said she hopes the event will also highlight their ongoing campaign for improvements on the A1 - the main road between Belfast and Dublin.

Six months after Mr Heaney's death, his loved ones started a petition calling on the Department for Infrastructure to carry out road improvements on the route, which has become a notorious black spot for road deaths.

The petition, which has been signed by more than 12,000 people, asks for the completion of A1 road improvements, with plans published back in 2011, but never progressed.

Read More: Tributes to 'true gentleman who epitomised all that is good in the GAA'

"We are trying to keep the campaign alive, trying to get the changes that are needed on the A1," she said.

"We are still appealing to people to write letters and show support for the campaign, to let the department know that things need to be done.

"At this stage, the public can still have their say up until June 28 by writing letters and sending emails.

"If there are no major objections at that stage, then there will be no public inquiry and we hope progress can be made from there. We understand that the work will affect land-owners, but we think saving another life is more important."

Ms Sands, who was due to move to England with Mr Heaney where he was to begin a teaching course before his death, said it had been a tough 12 months.

"Part of me doesn't feel like it's been a year, but yet at other times it feels so long and sometimes it's as if it happened yesterday," she said.

"It's really hit hard that it will be a year, but that's why we wanted to do something to remember Karl and include the things in it that he enjoyed in life.

"Karl would have loved the craic and we hope this will give people a chance to get together and celebrate his life."

The Karl Heaney Marvellous Memorial Match takes place at Ballyholland GAC on May 18 at 5pm.

:: To donate to the fundraiser, please visit www.gofundme.com and search for Karl Heaney.

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