A SMALL village has been left reeling following the tragic death of young hurling star Niall Donohue just before his birthday.
The talented sportsman was found dead at his home in Kilbeacanty near Gort, Co Galway, on Wednesday evening. He would have celebrated his 23rd birthday today.
His heartbroken father Francis and sister Orla are now being comforted by friends and relatives as they await the return of Niall's brother Shane from Australia today.
Local parish priest Fr Patrick Callanan, who is comforting the family, said a sense of devastation had descended on the area.
"A young man about to turn 23. He had his whole life ahead of him. It's just very sad for the family and the whole community," he said.
"I was with them last night. Devastation is the word I'd use.
"Shane is expected in on Friday evening. A few friends travelled with him so he wasn't alone. It has been very hard on all the family," he added.
Family friend and secretary of the Galway Hurling Board Pat Kearney said that the village remained in shock.
"There are no words that can describe it. The whole place is in shock, the parish and the club and the family are just shattered," he said.
Mr Kearney, who was a fellow clubman of the young hurler at Kilbeacanty, paid tribute to the family who were all deeply involved in hurling.
"The family are sill shattered. Francie and Orla are with family and Shane is still travelling. Niall's mother Mary passed away a few years ago and Francie raised the family and did trojan work. The whole Donohue family was steeped in GAA," he said.
Niall's death has also led to an outpouring of sympathy from his fellow players on social media.
The young hurler had been an integral part of the Galway hurling team and played in the All-Ireland final last year.
He had also helped the county secure glory in the 2011 Under-21s All-Ireland.
A statement from Galway GAA expressed heartfelt sympathy to Niall's family on behalf of the entire Galway GAA community.
"We offer all our condolences also to the members of Niall's club and parish, Kilbeacanty, to his fellow inter-county panellists on the Galway hurling team, and to his many friends and colleagues.
"Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam uasal dilis," it added.
In a player's profile piece for the Galway Hurling Supporters Club last year, Niall had spoken of his dream of winning an All-Ireland senior title, admitting that it was his best motivator.
He also advised younger players to "train hard, even harder when things are going bad, and you will get rewarded eventually".
The young defender told how his best memory on the pitch had been winning the All-Ireland Under-21s championship.
His funeral will take place on Sunday.