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'A natural leader': Tributes to nurse who credited GAA with helping her battle cancer

Sonia Kinsella pictured last month preparing to celebrate Christmas. The Co Down woman passed away on Saturday. Picture Belfast Telegraph
Seanín Graham

A CO DOWN nurse who was named Ulster GAA coach of the year has been remembered as an "inspirational" figure after losing her battle with cancer.

Sonia Kinsella (48) passed away at her home in Saul on Saturday, just months after learning no further treatment options were available.

Despite her prognosis, the mother-of-two continued to coach her local club's senior ladies' team over the winter along with her brother Frank, describing it as a "powerful therapy".

Her daughter Aisling (17) also plays for the Co Down club while her son, Cathal (15) is on the Down minor team. Her husband, Philip, is an active club member also.

A former nurse in a GP surgery, Ms Kinsella was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 35.

The disease returned three years ago and she underwent extensive chemotherapy treatment.

With a background steeped in GAA - she played for Saul when she was younger while her family, including the Hollands and McMinns, were also heavily involved - the vice-chairman of the club, Dr Eddie Harney, last night paid tribute.

Dr Harney, a local GP who was a close family friend, singled out Ms Kinsella's "stoicism" along with her "wonderful sense of humour".

Sonia Kinsella with her husband Philip, and children Cathal and Aisling, at their Co Down home.

"She really was an inspiration in how she dealt with cancer, how she dealt with her impending death and how she prepared her family," he said.

"Sonia always thought of everyone else, she was a great rock for many people. But she didn't really understand the impact she had and was a natural leader. She reinvigorated the team when she took over.

"Her husband and her children have the same qualities as Sonia. I saw her just before she passed and I feel so emotional about it, I can't imagine what they're going through.

"There'll be hundreds of people in our club who will have known her and will have been touched by her. She just did things the right way. She was an exceptional person."

Last month, Ms Kinsella was named Ulster GAA coach of the year after 23 nominations for being "inspirational and influential".

In an interview with the BBC she said the accolade was "embarrassing yet means everything".

She was also named the ladies' GAA volunteer of the year.

"You get sucked into a game or a training session so you can't think about anything else," she said.

"When that happens, there is more in the world than cancer. It forces me to be in the moment.

"There are some days when I feel down and can't be bothered but going out to training helps get my head around it. I get home and I'm buzzing after it."

Requiem Mass will be celebrated at 11am tomorrow in St Patrick's Church, Saul.

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