Fra McCaffrey is appealing for information on the senseless attack on his father
As we get older, we learn how challenging life can be.
Amid the laughter and happiness, there can be sadness and trauma.
Each day is a blessing but your world can be turned upside down in a moment.
We all live with the fear of that phone call or knock on the door bringing distressing news.
When the phone sounded in the early hours of a Saturday morning in January, Warrenpoint Town captain Fra McCaffrey’s concern soon spiralled into panic.
The man who gave him his love of football – his father Fra – suffered severe facial injuries when a bin filled with rocks was hurled from an overpass onto his windscreen.
The west Belfast lorry driver (57) had been travelling to the Royal Mail office in Larne after returning to HGV driving to help the pandemic effort and despite undergoing surgeries on his eye to remove glass, doctors were unable to restore sight in his right eye. A shocked and injured Fra managed to drive the lorry onto the hard shoulder to clear the high-speed carriageway - potentially saving lives.
It’s difficult to comprehend who would plan such a random attack but Fra and his family were left to deal with the horrific consequences.
“It was a big shock when it happened and it still hurts,” said Town midfielder Fra.
“He’s playing a bit of 5-a-side football and back training in the gym. He’s fine in the sense he is running about getting on with his life but you can tell he’s not the same. He’s blind in one eye and it’s still hard to comprehend it all.
“He still gets down when he thinks about what happened. He wants closure and to find out who done it and why. He sold a van he used as a taxi and things like that upset him. But he’s getting on with life and doing as much as he can.
“I was lying in bed during the Saturday morning we were due to play Dungannon.
“My sister Megan phoned me and when she said ‘daddy’s been in an accident’ I automatically thought the worst, fearing he was dead.
“Megan said he lost a lot of blood and we couldn’t get to see him in hospital due to the Covid-19 situation.
“It was difficult for Megan and my mum (Deirdre) in the hospital because none of us knew what was happening.
“Time went on and I was waiting for news not knowing what was happening. We all met up in mum’s house and thankfully, I got access to the hospital and dad could talk but was in serious pain. I asked him if he wanted me to play the game and he told me to go and score a goal but the game was called off due to the weather. It was a hard few days, the surgery was cancelled and we only got limited information.”
Fra’s dad is getting on with his life as best as he can. As best as anyone can while carrying the physical and mental scars of what happened that terrible night.
Police have said their investigation is closed and there’s a real prospect the culprits will not be caught.
“He’s allowed to drive again and can train, run, he’s blind in his right eye and has scars in his face, a plate in his cheek and nose, scars from surgery and he may need more,” added the 28-year-old.
“Other than that, he’s healthy but there’s a mental side to the injury which is massive.
“He has to come to terms with it, he’s a strong man and won’t show weakness but it must be hard living the consequences of someone doing such a horrible thing to a man who was just doing a decent night’s work.
“I do have anger and sadness because you wonder why would someone do that?
“It wasn’t a coincidence a bin full of bricks fell off a bridge. Someone went out to hurt someone and words can’t describe the emotions you feel.
“He’s one of the nicest men you could meet and he didn’t deserve this. It’s been a rough time for the family as my granny died last year and my mum Deirdre’s mum was also in hospital at the same time as my dad. There is relief he is still with us, but he should never have lost an eye.”
Fra, who lives in Finaghy and is a classroom assistant at Holy Evangelists’ Primary School in Twinbrook, has fond memories of watching his dad showcase his sporting talent.
“I can remember watching my dad play when I was a kid,” he says. “He played gaelic and football for a few local teams. I loved getting out of the house, kicking a ball about and watching him.
“I played for Celtic Boys until the age of 14 when I joined Linfield for two years. After that I went to Hull City until I was 20. I played for Linfield Swifts where David Jeffrey and Bryan McLoughlin were in charge of the first team.
“I played well in the Milk Cup and Foyle Cup. Stefan Seaton, a scout, kept an eye on me and I was able to go on trial to Hull who wanted to sign me.
“I was there three and a half seasons. I was 16 when I first went over and I loved it.
“Once I got to know the family I was staying with, my team-mates and coaches it helped me settle in but I was a shy kid. One of the lads in the youth team, Danny Wilkinson, passed away a few years ago when he had a heart attack on the pitch in England.
“I played a few reserves games with the current Leeds captain, Liam Cooper, and Conor Townsend who is now left-back at West Brom and Tom Cairney, now at Fulham.
“I lived with Dougie Wilson while at Hull. Paul McElroy was in the same youth team and my Point team-mate Kealan Dillon.”
But the Hull City dream didn’t last. Like many young players from Northern Ireland, Fra returned home and faced the challenge of resurrecting his career.
“Steve Bruce released me and I was devastated,” he recalls. “You think there’s a chance to be a professional footballer and then it’s gone. I ended up with a knee injury after that and had to do rehab. The season was ending and I came home. I went to Dundalk and my mindset was to embrace another challenge at home.
“Only a small percentage of our players will make it in the full-time game so if you go over at a young age it can be hard.
“Guys like Gavin Whyte and Stuart Dallas played men’s football from a young age and that helped their development. You are more switched on for what is expected. Whenever I was younger I would have trained and worked hard. My brother and dad asked me about doing more training but I always felt I done enough but I could have worked harder.
“It might not have worked but I could have given myself more of a chance.”
Fra’s career has been disrupted by injuries but Glentoran’s Irish Cup win in 2015 was memorable, for footballing and family reasons.
“Winning the Irish Cup with Glentoran in 2015 was special,” he says. “I couldn’t attend the church for my brother Daniel’s wedding that day and I was best man too!
“My family stuck by me, there was a bit of conflict at the start but I was told I was doing the right thing and then Eddie (Patterson) didn’t start me!
“Winning the League Cup with Ballymena United was also brilliant.
“But I had bad times during those periods too, with injuries and not playing as much.
“I’m settled now at Warrenpoint and my last few years have been the best because I’ve been playing and enjoying it.
“The club wants to improve and I want to be part of it. It’s a different type of pressure to the big teams but enjoyable.
“Everyone involved in the club are good people, volunteers who give everything and ask for nothing. We would love to end this disappointing losing run in the league and start moving up the table.”
Anyone with any information regarding the attack on Fra McCaffrey should contact the police in Larne.