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Obituary: Fintan Hillyard - rugby player who faced his cruel illness with courage and stoicism

Fintan Hillyard, who died shortly before Christmas after a long battle with cancer, was a member of the Belfast Harlequins Rugby Club. He was 28. During his illness he and his wife Rachael showed immense courage in dealing with the many challenges which came their way.

There was also great support from their wider family and friends, Belfast Harlequins and the rugby and sporting world in general.

Fintan Hillyard was educated at Methodist College, Belfast, and at Edinburgh University, where he graduated with a degree in politics and sociology.

In his schooldays he played on the junior Methody team that won the 2001 Medallion Shield, and was later a member of the senior squad for three seasons.

After graduating he played junior rugby at Deramore, and relatively quickly he achieved senior status. In February 2013 he was selected to play for the Belfast Harlequins Ist XV in AIL Division 1B against Bruff.

However, after scoring a try he felt an intense pain in his side and collapsed.

He was later diagnosed with an aggressive melanoma tumour in his abdomen, which was at stage 4, the most advanced category.

In a subsequent interview in the Belfast Telegraph he said: "There had been no outward signs of the tumour, and it did not make sense, as I was leading such an active life. It is devastating, but somehow you just cope and get on with it." He had to undergo several treatments, including a period in Frankfurt Clinic, which combined traditional cancer treatments with natural therapies. Unfortunately, the Frankfurt treatment had to be abandoned due to a neck injury.

Fintan and Rachael faced their many challenges together, and they were married and held a reception in the Merchant Hotel in Belfast.

In June this year the Harlequins club hosted a fundraising Festival of Rugby, which was widely supported. The aim was also to highlight all that is attractive and exciting about rugby, and 24 tag-rugby teams and 18 under-seven teams took part.

Leading sports personalities also gave support by donating a large range of items for auction.

They included a signed Ryder Cup shirt from Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, and a Surrey cricket top signed by the former Australian captain Ricky Ponting.

During his interview with the Telegraph, Fintan talked about his illness and said: "You get a new perspective on life and you learn to enjoy the simple things like walking the dog, having a cup of coffee in the sunshine, or even in the rain. Having your own home and being able to invite friends round is wonderful."

He is survived by Rachael, and his family and friends.

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