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The British soldier who glassed rising Dubs star

Brutal attack left GAA player scarred and battling to rebuild sporting life

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Horror attack: Stephen Howe

Horror attack: Stephen Howe

Horror attack: Stephen Howe

THIS is the first photograph of the violent thug who smashed a pint glass into the face of a talented Dubs GAA star in a horror unprovoked attack.

British soldier Stephen Howe (22) was jailed this week for three years for the gratuitous and random assault on footballer Aaron Duffy, in Wrights Cafe Bar in Swords.

Aaron, who was part of Dessie Farrell's U20s Dublin football team, has since endured recurring nightmares of the glass shards slicing through his eye, nose and mouth in the random attack as he queued for the toilet in a nightclub.

ASSAULT

This week, a court heard how Howe, from Brookdale Road, Rivervalley, Swords, was on bail at the time for an offence of drink-driving, committed the same month as the assault.

He was in the process of applying to join the British Army and later served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, the court heard.

Speaking to the Sunday World, Aaron said the attack changed his life forever - and the gifted footballer still doesn't know why it happened.

He has spent the last two years battling post-traumatic stress, depression and the excruciating pain caused by the horrific injury, which has left him effectively blind in one eye.

Aaron told the Sunday World that he decided to talk about what happened to him so other people facing the same struggle can know there is hope.

"Other people might have similar accidents or issues and it's important to know you can't let that take away everything, even though it's extremely difficult to deal with," he said.

"There is hope, I suppose, to better themselves and not go into the hole, as I call it, it's a trap."

Aaron has also shown incredible determination and bravery to fight his way back on to the Lusk Round Towers senior team and rekindle his Dublin county dream.

CONVICTION

Following Howe's conviction this week, Aaron said he is none the wiser as to why it happened.

"I thought it was a joke at the time. I think he was standing beside one of his friends, he seemed to be just having a laugh. I never felt it was a bad situation.

"There was nothing bad to be annoyed over. I don't know what happened - I still ask myself that question today," he told the Sunday World.

Just a week before the shocking incident in December 2017 - which was captured on CCTV - 19-year-old Aaron had a stand-out performance in a training match that put him on course to be a key player in the Dublin U20 panel and a tilt at the 2018 All-Ireland title.

"I had been playing the U21s the year before and we won the All- Ireland. It was my year then, it was the year for me to kind of shine through.

"We had a training game the week before, the coach came over to me after and said it was one of the best. I was delighted, you know the way you go away from a game knowing you've done well.

"I missed out the whole year because of what happened," he said.

But the attack affected more than just his football, as Aaron battled his demons and as his boyhood dreams of being a Dublin county footballer appeared to crumble.

Instead, he spent Christmas Day contemplating life without football and the prospect of his sporting ambition crashing down around him.

Football

"It was everything, even through school I spent most of my time thinking about football. I'd come in from school and all I wanted to do was go training.

"Since I was only seven or eight I was always watching my Da playing and my family would be big into football. The whole way up I was with Dublin.

"It was tough to take, it's what I had spent my whole life doing. I didn't know how to deal with it at the time," he explained.

Dublin GAA stepped in to ensure Aaron got the medical treatment and the counselling he needed to get through the consequences of suffering such a life-changing injury.

He started working hard at getting his fitness back and learning how he could get back to the high standard of football he was used to.

Aaron's damaged eye has a scar across the cornea which is inoperable, leaving him able to see just "light and blur".

He got in contact with Irish-born rugby player Ian McKinley who now Lines out for Italy despite losing an eye when he was 21 years old.

"He sent me over a pair of goggles, I was wearing them for a while playing. They're not the prettiest," laughed Aaron.

PRISON

So far, Aaron's hard work has paid off and he has made it back on to the senior team at Lusk Round Towers.

His attacker, Stephen Howe, from River Valley, Swords, is this weekend is beginning a three -ear prison term.

Aaron, who refused an offer of compensation from Howe, told the Sunday World: "At least there's some sort of justice done and I can move on with that."

Irish Independent