‘I will never truly know him’ - Phil O’Donnell’s daughter talks about the loss of her father

Megan O'Donnell with (l-r) Simon Donnelly, Jackie McNamara and Jordan Moore as they tackle the West Highland Way Pic: Facebook
Megan O'Donnell with (l-r) Simon Donnelly, Jackie McNamara and Jordan Moore as they tackle the West Highland Way Pic: Facebook

The daughter of late Motherwell legend Phil O’Donnell has spoken for the first time about growing up without her dad.

Megan O’Donnell was just 12-years-old when the Fir Park captain suffered a cardiac arrest while playing against Dundee United on December 29, 2007.

The former Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday midfielder died despite valiant efforts from medical staff to resuscitate him on the field.

His death was mourned by the whole footballing world, such was the shock at a young death on the pitch, especially given that it was around Christmas time.

Phil left behind his wife Eileen (45) daughters Megan (22) and Olivia (16) and sons Christopher (20) and Luc (14).

Megan revealed the struggle she and her family went through when trying to come to terms with the sudden death.

She said that the first few months were a blur, although it taught her how to make the perfect cup of tea with the amount of visitors they had.

It also gave her a greater respect for her mum who coped and has brought up all the kids on her own.

But she said that will never replace the sadness of not having her father.

Megan said: “In my eyes, my mum is superwoman. She survived becoming a widow at the age of 35 and she survived having to bring up four children all by herself.

“I know my dad will be beaming with pride at the amazing job she has done. To say that I miss my dad is a fairly obvious statement to make.

“I miss playing football in the hallway, with him as the goalie in the door frame while my brother and I chase the ball in our pyjamas and I miss his shockingly bad karaoke renditions of Neil Diamond’s Forever in Blue Jeans.

“But I don’t think that missing him has been the saddest part of the past 10 years. I often think about the fact that I will never truly know him.

Megan, who is due to graduate from university this year, admits that what hurts the most is that her mum is now her best friend, and her dad could have been too.

She will never know how close her and her dad, a Scotland international, could have been.

“As the years go by, the line between parent and friend starts to blur.

“I am now at an age where I can class my mum as one of my best friends and it hurts my heart to think of what could have been with my dad.

“I can only rely on fading childhood memories, and stories being passed down from relatives and friends to grasp an idea of what he was like outside of his role as father.”

She continued: “Unlike my siblings, I was lucky to have my dad present for my first day of high school.

“My youngest brother, Luc, didn’t even have a father to see him on his first day of primary school.

“But I wasn’t able to share my excitement of getting into university with my dad, and I know that when I graduate I will miss him more than ever.

“The saying goes ‘it’s who you look for in a crowded room’, and I know that when I collect my degree next week, I’ll not only be looking for my mum and my grandma.

“In the crowd, I’ll also be looking for a sign that he is with me.”

With a whole decade now passed since that fateful day, Megan organised a massive fundraiser in his memory.

She got in touch with Simon Donnelly, a former teammate of her dad, in order to brainstorm ideas.

They came up with the plan of completing the West Highland Way and Ben Nevis as a joint venture with ex-Dundee United player Jordan Moore (23).

Jordan was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2014 at just 19-years-old.

He has now made a full recovery and took part in the Football Unites challenge last week alongside his old Dundee United coaches – Simon, Jackie McNamara and Darren Jackson, all of whom also played with Phil at Celtic Park.

The money raised will be split between Cardiac Risk in the Young and the Teenage Cancer Trust – two charities close to the hearts of both families.

Megan has one hope for the future of Football Unites.

She said: “Though time may pass and the pain of losing someone becomes easier to deal with, we should never forget and Football Unites hopes to keep my dad’s memory alive as well as raising money to make a difference over the next 10 years.”

Megan has so far raised nearly £4,000, to make a donation click here