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Heartbroken family of 'inspirational' Anto Finnegan say they have 'never known such sorrow'

Former Antrim GAA captain Anto Finnegan has died at the age of 48
Seanín Graham

THE heartbroken wife of Anto Finnegan has said she has "never known such sorrow" following the death of the former Antrim GAA footballer and charity campaigner at the age of 48.

Alison Finnegan, who was with the west Belfast man for almost 30 years, was preparing for his remains to be brought home yesterday evening after he passed away on Saturday.

The couple have two children, Ava (16) and Conall (21).

Mr Finnegan, who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in 2012, was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast on Friday after becoming unwell.

There has been an outpouring of tributes for the "inspirational" former Antrim captain who raised more than £300,000 through the charity he founded, deterMND.

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Originally from Lenadoon, the gifted sportsman played for his county for 11 years. He was played for St Paul's GAA club.

In a death notice in today's Irish News, Mrs Finnegan says: "We have never known such sorrow. No matter what I do I will never let a day go by without a thought of you".

His daughter Ava, also paid tribute to her "best friend" and said she will miss their "laughs and smiles".

"You were the bestest friend and daddy anyone can ask for. I love you to the moon and back," she wrote.

Conall Finnegan said there were no words to "describe how we feel".

"Your memory will live on through mummy, Ava and me, as well as all the people you have inspired. We all strive to be like you every day."

Mr Finnegan worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the neurological condition, for which there is no cure.

In 2017, he completed 90 miles of one of Europe's most gruelling challenges - the Camino Frances, the most popular pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago - travelling in a specially-adapted wheelchair through rough terrain, some off-road and up mountains.

The late Anto Finnegan pictured with his wife, Alison and their two friends, Cormac Carmichael and Brendan Elliot in 2017 when they undertaking the Camino Frances to raise awareness of Motor Neurone Disease

Former team-mates praised his leadership but also singled out his "quick wit", while another said he didn't let his illness "define him".

Gearóid Adams, who first met him when they were 11-years-old and travelling to on a bus to play a match in Croke Park, remembers his great sense of humour.

The pair remained life-long friends and were part of the winning Antrim side which defeated Down in 2000 - the same group have met every Christmas since.

"We were both in P7 and at different schools going to play in Croke Park as part of a Belfast team. He was a messer like all of us but he played soccer, hurling and football - and was good at them all. He always had this cheeky grin and never took himself too seriously," Mr Adams said.

"I got to know him very well when we both played for Antrim. In the dressing room he became our leader and was always positive. We played for about 13 years together. Looking back he was always given the hardest job, whether that was marking Joe Brolly or Mickey Linden - and just relished the challenges.

"I met him a month ago in Donegal on the beach and we were chatting away about football. The illness had taken its toll but he was still laughing and having the craic. He was a very proud Antrim man."

Another close club and county team-mate, Joe Quinn, also remembered his friend fondly.

"People think of him for his campaigning work, which was brilliant, but to me Anto just always stayed Anto. He was very, very witty. He was one of the only people you would never have wanted to get into a slegging match with - as he would have cut you down so quick," Mr Quinn said.

"He was a braver man than I ever was when he got his diagnosis. He never let it define him. He was just a great fellow."

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