Tributes as Glentoran hero Robert dies after eight-year struggle with rare disorder
A former footballer from east Belfast who lived his dream by playing for Glentoran has died after a long battle with a rare disorder.
Robert Craig (47), who was a star in the 1980s, battled bravely against the degenerative neurological condition ataxia.
The former winger was part of one of the great Glens teams of the modern era.
However, eight years ago Robert was given the devastating diagnosis that changed his life.
Ataxia, which affects fewer than 300 people in Northern Ireland, left the former sportsman dependent on a wheelchair to get around.
Robert, a boyhood fan, played at The Oval for seven years after signing at the age of 16 and was part of a squad that included the likes of Jim Cleary, Billy Caskey, Barney Bowers and Johnny Jameson.
As tributes flooded in last night, a director of the east Belfast club recalled some of Robert's defining moments in the green, red and black.
Ian Clarke said: "More than virtually anyone else at Glentoran in those late Eighties glory years for the club, Robert Craig lived the dream on behalf of every Glentoran supporter.
"At a time when the team was full of legendary names like Cleary, Blackledge, Caskey, McCartney and Jameson, it was a monumental achievement for a Glentoran-supporting kid from the heart of east Belfast to come through the ranks and to take his place among them.
"When Robert scored a late winner in a Big Two Gold Cup final against Linfield at The Oval, he did it on behalf of every one of us standing under the shed that day who were never good enough to achieve what he did.
"That made him very special to the Glentoran supporters. He was a credit to his family and to Glentoran.
"On behalf of everyone at Glentoran, deepest and most sincere condolences to all of Robert's family and friends both in Northern Ireland and his adopted home in Australia."
Robert travelled home from Australia last year for a holiday and attended a charity game featuring a Glentoran Legends XI and a side made up of his friends. In an interview with this newspaper, he vowed that his illness would not stop him making the most of his life.
Caskey (62), who played with Robert during his glory days, said he was a top footballer who was a Glentoran man "through and through".
"He was a great player, he enjoyed it, and he had an opportunity to go to Australia and he took it," he added.
"We played a game for him when he came home last year. Although he was in a wheelchair, I remember him as a fit, handsome boy who was so quick he could run like the wind.
"He was a great footballer and was Glentoran through and through.
"He got his dream by playing for them.
"A lot of people don't get to live their dream, but he did."