Gary Heasley, one of Glenavon’s most committed and most popular supporters, is making slow but steady progress as he recovers from injuries sustained in a serious accident.

On 3rd July 2023 the Irwin Drive man was knocked off his bicycle by a motorist whilst cycling in the Banbridge Road area of Lurgan. He was immediately admitted to Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital. He spent six days there and a further two weeks in Craigavon Area Hospital. His injuries included a badly fractured pelvis, punctured lungs, a broken wrist and head wounds.

Since he left hospital, Gary has been largely house bound. Nonetheless, he has done his best to attend as many Glenavon matches as possible. Initially, that required a wheelchair. Now he can walk short distances using crutches.

It has been a terrible period for Gary, his new wife Ruth, and their families.

As regards the accident, I have no idea what happened,” he explained. “When I came round, all I recall is the excruciating pain. Then three weeks in hospital and at home ever since. Dealing with the frustration of not being able to work and do the things that I would normally do has been almost as tough as the physical aspect. It has been and still is an enormous challenge for Ruth and I.”

On a positive note, Gary has been encouraged by the support he has received, particularly from his wife, parents, brothers and sister and the congregations at Emmanuel Christian Fellowship and Shankill Parish Church. He has also been inundated with messages from friends, fellow supporters and the club itself. “During the summer Glenavon sent me a ‘Get Well Soon’ card signed by the players and many, many people have got in touch via Facebook and other social media. Everyone has been very kind. It is really appreciated.

Although the consultants are hopeful that Gary will make a full recovery, he still has a long way to go. “I have been told that the healing process will take another year,” he explained. “I am still in a lot of discomfort and pain. The injuries were very bad. I could have been killed. The accident was as serious as that.”

Gary is a grandson of Willie John Donnelly. Willie John, who died in 1994, was one of the longest lived Glenavon supporters of the 20th century. He was a longstanding member of the William Walker Supporters’ Club.

The Irwin Drive man is, of course, one of Dixie Heasley’s sons. Dixie, an accomplished musician, was the driving force behind “Mourneview Aces,” the popular 1992 song recorded in advance of the Irish Cup Final against Linfield.

Gary has been watching the Lurgan Blues since the mid-1980s. “Players such as Laurence Stitt, Robbie Dennison, Davy Dennison, Duncan Lowry, Barry McCabe, Billy Drake and a young Stevie McBride were in the first team which I saw,” he revealed. “Those were the days when the only seats in Mourneview Park were in the old wooden grandstand and games were played in the snow with an orange ball.”

Gary was, of course, a witness to Glenavon’s memorable triumphs of the late 1980s and 1990s. Those were the days when the club was constantly challenging for major trophies,” he recalled. “The crowds then were huge compared to today and the football was really entertaining. We were spoilt, and, at the time, weprobably didn’t know it.”

Glenn Ferguson was Gary’s favourite player of that era. “Spike was the top centre forward in the league,” he continued. “He scored tonnes of goals – all types of goals – and sometimes even played in midfield. I was and still am very friendly with Mark Savage who played for us and later captained Dungannon Swifts. Mark tells me that Spike was as physically tough as any player he ever played with or against.”

More recently, Gary enjoyed watching Sammy Clingan. “Sammy was a classy midfielder,” he added. “He was so comfortable on the ball. He never gave up possession and he cool and composed taking penalties. He was a great player.”

When asked about his most memorable days watching Glenavon, he, without hesitation, proffered the Irish Cup Final victories against Linfield in 1992 and 2016. “The 1992 match was exceptional because of the attendance at the Oval. Was it 20,000 or was it more? The Glenavon support that day was bigger than at any game I have seen before or since. Plus, we came from a goal down to win. The 2016 final performance was arguably even better than in 1992. Who would have imagined that we would beat Linfield so comfortably in their own stadium on Cup Final day?”

Sadly, there have also been big disappointments. “I remember us losing 7-0 at home to Linfield in the 1980s and then, of course, the league decider against Portadown in 1994,” he added. “Mourneview Park was bulging that day. We were 2-0 up and coasting. But then, after we missed a great chance to make it three, they came back, and the match finished 2-2. I cried that afternoon. I was also one of the last supporters to leave. I was in a state of shock. I don’t think there will ever be another bad day to match that one.”

But, coming back to the present, Gary is hopeful that new manager Stephen McDonnell can steer the club towards Premiership safety and, perhaps, even a tilt at UEFA Conference League qualification. “I, like a lot of supporters, was sad to see Gary Hamilton go. He lifted us out of the doldrums and made us competitive again. But, two months on, Stephen has turned things around. Hopefully, we can build on the momentum of the last month and begin to challenge the Top Six clubs.”

Christmas 2023, for Gary and Ruth, will be quite different to previous festive periods. “It is going to be tough because being unable to work brings pressures,” the Irwin Drive man added. “But we will make the best of it and hope for better times in 2024.”

All Glenavon supporters wish Gary a speedy and full recovery.