Northern Ireland news

Family's devastation at sudden death of footballer Tony Campbell (29)

Tony Campbell with his fiancée Róisín Laverty and baby son Cónal
John Monaghan

A SOCCER club in west Belfast is to 'retire' one of its jerseys in tribute to a player who died suddenly from a heart attack.

Requiem Mass for Tony Campbell (29) is to be celebrated on Thursday morning at Christ the Redeemer Church in Lagmore, before burial at Blaris cemetery,

Mr Campbell, who worked as a plasterer, lived in Mount Eagles with his fiancée Róisín Laverty and baby son Cónal, who was born in September 2015.

A former pupil of St John the Baptist Primary School and De La Salle College, he had grown up in Lenadoon and played for local club Tullymore Swifts.

His death came just two days after that of Louise McIlwaine (30), a former next door neighbour in west Belfast who suffered an epileptic seizure.

Speaking to The Irish News on Wednesday, Mr Campbell's devastated family members paid tribute a devoted brother, son, partner and father.

After going out to watch Carl Frampton's title fight on Saturday night, the talented footballer became unwell later that morning.

His fiancée Róisín Laverty said: "He went into the bathroom to be sick. The next thing he was lying face down on the bed.

"I started calling him and I rolled him over. He didn't answer.

"I ran into the street and screamed for help. He kept struggling but in the end it was too late."

She added: "To me and my son he was everything. His last words to me were 'I'm sorry'. What did he have to be sorry for?"

Described as a "gentleman", Mr Campbell had grown up in Lenadoon next door to Ms McIlwaine, and had been planning to attend her funeral on Monday.

His devastated Róisín Laverty partner said: "Tony was in seeing the family and it was the first time I had seen him cry in 15 years together.

"He was worried how he would cope for her funeral. He didn't end up making her funeral and here we are preparing for his."

Mr Campbell's father Frank said: "Tony was a gentleman. He was very kind and would have given you the shirt off his back.

"He was a prankster and a very hard-working lad. He just loved life."

His partner Róisín said 16-month-old son Cónal has been asking for his father.

"He has been looking for his dad these last few days, asking where he is."

Mother Brenda added: "He loved the wee child and now he is never going to see him growing up."

A football fanatic, Mr Campbell was a club captain of St Oliver Plunkett FC before playing for Tullymore Swifts.

He was also picked for a Down and Connor League select side and represented De La Salle College when it won the Northern Ireland Schools Cup.

As a tribute to the talented player, who had been with the club for almost a decade, Tullymore has decided to no longer use his number five jersey, which will be framed and given to the family.

Close friends within the club - known as the 'Tullymore Twisters' - have recalled a "great teammate and friend who graced the football pitch and many dance floors on end-of-season away trips in Benidorm, Salou, Krakow, Derry and other locations".

In a Facebook post, the club also said: "Tony's death has sent shock through the club in which he was not only a player but also a valued teammate and friend. Anyone who knows Tony will be touched by a deep sadness."

Ms Laverty said members of the club "have been our rock", adding that "I would not be here without them".

It emerged on Wednesday that one person under the age of 35 dies every month in Northern Ireland from an undiagnosed heart condition, with around 17,500 peple at risk of sudden death.

The family say they now wish to raise greater public awareness about the importance of defibrillators and ensure people are aware where their nearest one is.

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