Ex-Glentoran ace Robert Craig dies after battle against rare illness
The former Glentoran player, Robert Craig has died.
Mr Craig had battled bravely against the rare and degenerative neurological condition ataxia.
He was 47-years-old.
Mr Craig lived the dream of every young footballer who grew up on the streets of east Belfast, in the shadow of Glentoran FC.
A rising star in the 1980s, he was part of one of the great Glens teams of the modern era. But eight years ago life dealt Robert a devastating blow when he was diagnosed with ataxia.
The former winger was confined to a wheelchair after being struck down with the illness which is so uncommon it affects only 289 people in Northern Ireland.
But just as he never shirked a challenge on the football field, Robert vowed it wouldn't stop him making the most of life.
"You have a choice, you either get on with life or you just sit there feeling sorry for yourself," he told the Belfast Telegraph in an interview last year.
"If you want to restrict yourself that's up to you. I try not to."
Robert, a huge Glens fan, played for the club for seven years. He signed when he was 16 and was part of a squad that included the likes of Jim Cleary, Billy Caskey, Barney Bowers and Johnny Jameson.
"I'd have played for nothing," Robert said. "It was a great team. I was very lucky."
After seven seasons at The Oval, he signed for Ballymena United. Later, he was part of the Loughgall squad that won the old B Division in the 1994/95 season.
Soon afterwards Robert moved to Australia after marrying his wife Gillian.
He returned to Northern Ireland every two years before he was diagnosed, but stopped as he was unsure how people would react.
But he returned to Northern Ireland last year for a charity football match, his first visit in seven years, and was heartened by the support he received.
What is ataxia?
Ataxia is the name given to a group of neurological disorders which affect balance, co-ordination and speech. There are many different types of ataxia that can affect people in different ways. Anyone of any age can get ataxia, but certain types are more common in certain age groups. A rare condition, some forms of ataxia are treatable, but in most cases there is still no cure.
Belfast Telegraph Digital