Northern Ireland news

Gaelic football tournament in memory of former Antrim footballer and inter-county referee

Paul McKeever had a successful career as a referee

A GAELIC football tournament will be held in memory of a former Antrim footballer and inter-county referee who died just three months after being diagnosed with a rare type of cancer.

Paul McKeever (39) from Portglenone will be remembered at the 'Light Up the Pitch for Paul' event at Roger Casements GAC in the village on Saturday.

His wife Nicola has told The Irish News that she hopes the tournament will help raise much-needed funds for two charities who helped her husband and their family through the "most difficult time".

Mr McKeever passed away last November after being diagnosed with a yolk sac tumour - a rare, malignant tumour of cells that lines the yolk sac of the growing embryo. It is most often found in children before the age of two.

A devoted husband and father of three, he represented Antrim at both minor and Under-21 level.

He was a member of the ground-breaking Sean Stinson's minor team - an amalgamation between Roger Casements and St Mary's Ahoghill - which won four Antrim minor championships in a row between 1995-1998.

Paul McKeever: Simply irreplaceable, simply inspirational

Forced to give up football through injury, he embarked on a successful career as a referee, officiating in the Ulster club championship and at Ulster minor championship games.

He was deeply involved with Roger Casements GAC, where he served on the committee and coached underage teams.

Paul and Nicola McKeever with their three children Erin, Ryan and Conor

But Mrs McKeever last night described how their "family life changed forever" in August 2018.

"Paul had been in good health, working long hours in a family business, coaching youth football and refereeing Gaelic football matches," she said.

"We had just celebrated our eldest son's confirmation and our younger son's first holy communion in June. Within a period of five weeks, Paul developed headaches, which gradually became more severe.

"In the last few days before his diagnosis, Paul experienced severe lower back pain, night sweats and weight loss, such a dramatic change within a few days.

He was deeply involved with Roger Casements GAC, where he served on the committee and coached underage teams

"He became so unwell, he had to be taken to Antrim Area Hospital via ambulance. He received his diagnosis of a yolk sac tumour, an extremely rare cancer.

"The next day he was transferred to Belfast City Hospital where we would spend the majority of the next three months receiving treatment."

Mrs McKeever said they received "great support and comfort" from the Friends of the Cancer Centre during Paul's treatment as well as invaluable help from Cancer Focus NI during his illness and following his death in November.

In a bid to thank the two charities, Roger Casements GAC have organised a fundraising football tournament on Saturday.

Thirty-two under 10 and under 12 teams from across Ulster will compete, including Mr McKeever's sons Ryan and Conor, while six Gaelic referees will officiate at the event.

"The two charities helped us so much, we want to give something back to them," said Mrs McKeever.

"They are under big financial constraints, but we hope the football tournament can raise some funds for the charities who helped Paul and all our family."

The event takes place on Saturday at 3.30pm or alternatively you can donate, www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jennifer-glackin1

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