GAA Football

Anto Finnegan was a 'role model, warrior & inspiration' - Declan Lynch

The Finnegan family pictured with former Dublin manager Jim Gavin at the Run for Anto event in Belfast's Falls Park Picture by Ann McManus

FORMER Antrim captain Anto Finnegan who passed away at the weekend following his long battle with Motror Neuron Disease has been described as “a role model, a warrior and an inspiration” by current county stalwart Declan Lynch.

Finnegan began his Gaelic footballing career at Lámh Dhearg, where he won an U21 championship medal and two senior football league titles before making the short move to fellow west Belfast club St Paul’s. Lynch has followed in Finnegan’s footsteps at both the Hannahstown club and at inter-county level and he has precious memories of the lengths Finnegan would go to offer motivation to the current generation of Saffron footballers.

“As a former county captain and player, he was always a big supporter of those of us who came after him on the Antrim football panel,” said Lynch after playing in Lámh Dhearg’s Antrim championship win over Naomh Éanna yesterday afternoon.

“Shortly after he was diagnosed with Motor Neurons and he was battling the disease, he came into the St Paul’s changing rooms to speak with us before we played Carlow in the National League. He spoke about the pride of playing for your county and how it was important for more than just the players – how important it was to represent your county.

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“Then, when he was further on in his battle, [former Antrim manager] Lenny Harbinson got him in to talk to us before another National League game up at Glenavy. He knew what it meant to play for your county and he wanted us to take that on board.”

After a number of near misses, Antrim finally got themselves promoted from Division Four of the National Football League earlier this year and, looking back, Lynch takes solace from the fact that Finnegan was around to see that happen.

“Anto’s life means more than any promotion ever will but for us to manage it and for Anto to see it happening, even if he couldn’t be there in person, was big. It validated what he said to us over the years,” the county defender added.

Like many others have noted, the qualities which Finnegan displayed in his long battle with illness will be seen as ones to live up to for a long time to come: “His never say die attitude will stand out as part of his legacy.

“And while you could never embrace a disease like Motor Neurons, he took the challenge head on. He enjoyed his life as much as it was humanly possible to do. The awareness he raised through all his years of fighting will count for way more than any money he may also have raised in the process.

“He was part of our club, he played for us before he went down the road to St Paul’s, and it’s a sad day for us and for everyone across Antrim.”

Writing on Twitter on Saturday night, Dublin star Brian Fenton labelled Finnegan a “legend,” Philly McMahon wrote that he had “left a legacy that anyone would be proud of” while Joe Brolly recalled Finnegan telling him after his diagnosis, “There’s nothing to be sad about, I have a great life”.

One of the places where Finnegan’s passing will be most acutely felt will be at St Paul’s on the Shaws Road, where he excelled for both the football and hurling teams. Club chairperson Paul Stevenson extended his condolences to Finnegan’s family and spoke of his legacy.

“Both of and off the pitch, Anto showed incredible leadership and character in everything that he done from winning and captaining our club to Antrim Senior Football Championships in the 1990s as well as playing a huge part in our only Intermediate Hurling title to coaching our juvenile teams,” Stevenson said.

But maybe the last line should go to Anto Finnegan himself: “Enjoy life, everyday is a blessing, enjoy it to the fullest and if you can do something to help someone else, then roll up the sleeves and do it.”


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