For the past 10 years, Neil Mullan and a group of friends in his home town of Limavady have consistently organised charity football matches to help people locally but, this year, the fundraising game came close to home for the 33-year-old.
Back in April, what had started as just another day at work, ended with a life changing diagnosis with Neil being told he had chronic myeloid leukaemia.
“I hadn’t been feeling myself for a while, and was feeling very lethargic. I had lost two stone since Christmas and, although I was going to the gym, I knew I hadn’t been doing enough to lose that amount of weight. Then I felt this hard lump - about the size of my fist - in my left side. I was always picking up colds so, one day at work, I rang Bovalley Health Centre to see if I could get an appointment and I managed to get one for that afternoon,” recallled Neil.
As soon as Neil showed the doctor the lump, he was told it was likely he had leukaemia.
“I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘how could the doctor diagnose that from a lump?’, but I can’t thank the doctor enough. I was in Altnagelvin the next morning,” said Neil.
After the initial diagnosis, Neil said he was in a trance and it was only when he saw his parents, Irene and Barney, outside the health centre he broke down.
“Inside 12 hours my life changed,” said Neil, who heaps praise on the staff at Altnagelvin for the care he has received in the last six months. “They’ve been absolutely brilliant and can’t do enough for me,” said Neil, who takes daily medication and continues to receive treatment at the Sperrin Suite at Altnagelvin every three weeks.
“You just have to get on with it,” says Neil, who credits his wife Ciara and her parents, his own parents; sisters Donna and Laura and brother John - friends and his employer, Limavady Printing Company and Jarleth O’Brien, as a constant wave of support. Neil also thanked the O2 store in Limavady. “Everyone has been brilliant and I can’t thank them enough for that.”
Neil, just appointed as manager of Limavady United FC, says when it came to this year’s charity football match, he never thought it would be something so close to home.
“Each year myself, Paul Bacon, John Mullan, Kyle Hunt, Keith Kilburn, Frankie Mills, Willie McLaughlin, Consey Carton, Paschal Devlin, Brian Mullan and Liam McCloskey would run a charity match for someone in the town who needs help with something, and we’d raise about £2,000 each year, but I never thought it would be on my doorstep,” said Neil.
The match, held at the 3G pitch on Scroggy Road with help from Olly Mullan, raised £3,400 for the Sperrin Suite.
“I know what it’s like for people who are in the Sperrin Suite so we came up with the idea of buying 10 iPads for the Unit. People can sit for hours getting treatment so, I thought, this might help pass the time and make them more comfortable. The nurses there do an unbelievable job,” said Neil, who explained money left over from what was raised is going towards the nurses’ Christmas do.
“The nurses are fantastic,” said Neil.
As for the future, Neil has much to look forward to. Wife Ciara - “unreal support” for Neil - is due to give birth in five weeks. He’s also looking forward to getting a few more points on the board for Limavady United in the Irish Championship. He admits it will be challenging, but knows his assistant, Aidy McLaughlin will support him.
“We’re at the bottom of the table, so the only way we can go is up but, as I told the lads this week, the last six months for me has been a real battle and they need to go out and enjoy playing football. If they can get something out of that, well and good,” said Neil, adding: “This year started out with news I was going to be a dad and I was so, so happy but, one month, later it went from one extreme to the other. It is hard to take in and my life has changed, but you just have to get on with it.”