An inquest has opened into the death of a promising young Leigh footballer as the community is still left reeling.
Niall Dearnaley, 18, who died on May 7, has been described as a “legend” by members of Leigh Genesis F.C. Hundreds of people have paid tribute to the “loyal” and “popular” St Mary’s RC Sixth Form student via social media and crowds of friends and fellow members packed out St Joseph’s Church on May 19 to support his family at the funeral.
A statement released by Leigh Genesis F.C said: “Niall played over 320 games for the Club, both Saturdays and Sundays.
“A very strong uncompromising defender to start with but in later years enjoyed a good spell as striker and scored a number of very important goals in the U17’s Bolton, Bury and District Football League Champions Winners and Chairman’s Cup Winners. Make no mistake Niall is a legend within Leigh Genesis.
“During his playing career he won many team awards including ‘Most Consistent Player’, ‘Most Man of Match’, ‘Parents Player’ and ‘Team Player’, but most of all he won new friends. The club will be exploring how we can remember Niall so that his presence will not be forgotten.”
The club detailed Niall’s impressive football career with them, beginning in 2008 when he played for the Under 10s Sunday Team.
In 2013 after five years of “unwavering loyalty”, Niall, who began a “clever and classy” defender before later becoming a striker, was awarded the Long Service Award. He was continuously re-signed year on year and played his last game for the club on Sunday April 16 this year.
In his memory, the club has hosted raffles and winning team members have also donated their prize money to the Niall fund.
Tributes have been left by friends and former teachers of Niall’s, who have poured out their condolences to his dad, Gary and mum, Sharon and the rest of his family.
Stuart Gerrard said: “As a manager for Leigh Genesis and parent of a player and pupil of St Mary’s, I send my heartfelt condolences. Prayers and thoughts with Niall’s family.” Rara Cole added: “Devastated, such heart breaking news. He was a lovely lad who always made you smile.”
One of Genesis’ coaches pledged to wear a remembrance band at his training session and each team stood silent for a minute before their next kick-off as a mark of respect for the teen.
Among some of the heartfelt tributes paid to Niall, he was described as “very popular”, “extremely polite” and a “credit” to the community, his family and his football club.