Irish League referee Keith Kennedy has given a compelling insight into how Coronavirus has had a serious impact on his life and career in the game.
The 29-year-old from Lisburn should have no fitness or health concerns as he performs his officiating duties in the Danske Bank Premiership but he feels like his life has been put on hold since the start of the year.
Respected FIFA official Kennedy contracted the virus back in early January and he still hasn’t completely shaken off the effects of the infectious disease.
The lengthy recovery period has sparked fears of long Covid, but Kennedy is hopeful he will resume his refereeing duties in the next week or two after consulting his GP.
Kennedy felt unwell after he was fourth official at a Larne v Ballymena United match on January 2 but he resumed his refereeing career towards the end of February and also took charge of Glentoran’s 3-1 win over Linfield at The Oval on Tuesday, March 2.
His last game was Larne’s 3-1 victory at Carrick Rangers on Tuesday, March 16.
It became clear that his body wasn’t in the prime condition it should be and the experienced official was never going let himself or anyone else down.
As Northern Ireland eases out of lockdown, Kennedy’s story is a timely reminder of how the virus can impact lives and careers.
“I know from my own perspective Covid has created more than enough problems for me over the last few months,” said Keith, who has had to postpone his wedding to fiancée Joanne five times.
“It’s challenging no matter what age you are.
“I was fourth official at a Larne v Ballymena United match on January 2 and on the Sunday evening I felt unwell.
“I’m not sure how I got the virus though I heard two players picked it up that day.
“I started to shiver and realised I needed to get tested.”
Recalling his symptoms he described the pain throughout his body that he experienced during the ordeal.
He said: "I had pains throughout my body and that was my biggest problem.
" As well as the pain around the body, I had migraines.
“The flu-like symptoms disappeared and it was more pressure points of my body that were painful.
“I took a break and was out for a while, I came back at the end of February and did three games but I didn’t feel fit.
"The after match recovery took about six days and that was far from ideal given the relentless fixture list we have this season.
“I did Glentoran v Linfield after I came back and then the penny dropped, it was taking me too long to return to normal.
“I needed to find out if it was long Covid or something else.
" I visited my GP who has a background in the Irish League and he identified a health issue which can hopefully be rectified.
“I’m hopeful of returning in the next week or two.”
Kennedy says his refereeing colleagues have been very supportive and he’s grateful for their understanding.
“I got plenty of support from my colleagues and remained positive,” he added.
“I never feared my refereeing future was in jeopardy but there was a lot of frustration.
“There’s never been any pressure on me to come back, as everyone understands the situation.
“Referees are like players, they want to be involved, not on the sidelines, and you do miss it.
“I’ve been refereeing Premiership matches since I was 21 and this is my life.
“But I had to listen to my body and the experts instead of jumping back in again.”
Kennedy, who was the man in the middle for the 2017 Irish Cup Final when Linfield beat Coleraine 3-0, hopes to leave this difficult chapter in his life behind and get back to doing what he loves.
For those who have felt the full force of Covid-19 and are fortunate enough to be on the road to recovery, there is hope on the horizon following the vaccine rollout.
“I’m encouraged by the vaccine programme and optimistic we are in a better place,” added Keith.
“There’s apprehension there but we can only take precautions and hopefully there are better days for everyone.
“A few players have asked me where I have been and the virus certainly knocked me for six.
“We are nearly four months on from when I got it and I’m trying to get back to some form of normality.
“People are still catching the virus and I was fortunate to be healthy when I contracted it.
“I don’t believe I have long Covid but we will see how my recovery goes.
“It’s hard having to self-isolate and I’ve missed the football, including the fans.”
This is one referee happy to hear the supporters give him some banter again.