Northern Ireland news

Referee who had 'close contact' with coronavirus footballer says 'pushed from pillar to post trying to get information'

Referee Martin Conlon
Seanín Graham

THE referee who officiated at a soccer match on Saturday involving a player who later tested positive for coronavirus has said he wasn't contacted by health authorities until last night.

Martin Conlon (57) said he contacted the NHS helpline as well as a weekend out-of-hours GP and his own doctor yesterday morning after learning he had been in close contact with the Hanover FC player during the game at Coagh Sports Centre in Co Tyrone.

However, it wasn't until yesterday evening that the Public Health Agency (PHA) telephoned him to say he was at "high risk" of infection and required a swab test.

Mr Conlon told The Irish News he had been "going over the game in his head" and realised that he had a collision with the affected player as well as speaking to him.

Originally from Motherwell in Scotland, the referee has been living in Ballinderry for almost a decade and is self-employed.

He took a decision to self-isolate after first learning through the Mid-Ulster League Secretary about the positive Covid-19 case.

"I got the call from the secretary at 7.50pm on Saturday night and I've been pushed from pillar to post trying to get information from the health authorities since then," he said.

"I assumed someone would be in touch to ask me to get tested. I wasn't even aware of the player's name until Sunday night and then I realised I'd had a face-to-face conversation with him and an accidental collision. It was then that I contacted the 111 number and the out-of-hours GP.

"I rang my own GP at 8.30am on Monday morning and she told me to self-isolate as a precaution since I had bodily contact."

Mr Conlon, who has more than 25 years' experience as a referee, said he "feels fine and have no symptoms but I am conscious of others".

"The woman from the PHA got in touch after 6pm tonight and told me I was high risk and that arrangements would be made for me to get tested," he said.

Portadown-based Hanover FC, who had played a reserve match against Coagh United on Saturday, released a statement that evening saying it had "no knowledge of the testing" until after the game and took took "all precautionary measures" by immediately contacting players, the opposing side, the Mid-Ulster League and the NHS.

Coagh United advised anyone playing in the game or in the social club that night to monitor themselves, while Glenavy-based Crewe United FC - which played Hanover's first team on Saturday - also said its senior teams had been stood down as a precaution.

The PHA had said on Saturday it was "working quickly to identify contacts the individual may have had, with the objective of preventing the further spread of the virus".

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