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WE'RE UNITED.. IN HOPE FOR OMAGH; Manchester stars bring joy to bomb town.

THE stars of Manchester United brought joy and hope last night to bomb-ravaged Omagh.

Seven thousand cheering locals turned out to see the treble winners stroll to a 9-0 victory over the town's team.

But the result didn't matter. It was United's gesture to boost morale and the Omagh Fund that really counted.

The Premiership giants thrilled the Ulster townsfolk as they prepared for the first anniversary of the IRA outrage that killed 29 people and injured hundreds of others.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson was humbled by the bravery of 16-year Claire Gallagher, who was blinded in the blast.

"It's so nice to meet you here," she told him as they shook hands when he rushed to greet her before the kick-off.

Claire, who earlier this year played the piano at a St Patrick's Day reception for President Clinton, performed for the players at a pounds 2,000-a-head dinner in aid of the fund.

Sir Alex said: "I am only sorry that the reason for our trip is tinged with such extreme sadness and suffering.

"But we are nevertheless delighted to be providing the opposition for this special fundraising event."

There were sombre scenes before the match as the crowd held a minute's silence for the victims.

Among them was 23-year-old newlywed Donna Marie McGillion, still wearing the mask which she must use to protect her badly burned face.

The match had special significance for striker Andy Cole.

The Omagh branch of the United Supporters Club was presenting him with an award in Manchester on August 16 when the bombing happened.

Since then the goal ace has devoted himself to helping the town. He visited injured children there in September and took a key role in organising last night's game.

Fittingly, there were extra cheers as he scored one of United's goals.

Teddy Sheringham, skipper Roy Keane and Gary Neville were also among the squad.

But there was disappointment that idols David Beckham and Ryan Giggs were absent.

Claire Davis, 15, said: "I can't believe Beckham isn't here."

Pal Stacey Colton, also 15, added: "The town has been very excited. But I would have liked to have seen Beckham."

Omagh skipper Mark Donnelly, 32, said: "It's brilliant to play United."

-Voice of The Mirror - Page 6
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Author:Prince, Rosa
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 4, 1999
Words:376
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