Tragic Hearts captain Marius Zaliukas confided in Tynecastle team-mate Saulius Mikoliunas on MND battle

Marius Zaliukas felt the first effects of motor neurone disease while playing for Hearts, his Tynecastle team-mate Saulius Mikoliunas has revealed.

Hearts defender Marius Zaliukas went on to play for Leeds and Rangers. He died on October 31, 2020
Hearts defender Marius Zaliukas went on to play for Leeds and Rangers. He died on October 31, 2020

The Hearts captain died last month and his funeral held last week in his native Lithuania following a battle with the disease lasting for “seven or eight years”.

As team-mates for Lithuania and Hearts, Mikoliunas used to room with the defender on away trips and it was on international duty he learned of his friend’s condition.

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“He told me maybe seven or eight years ago when he first felt the signs. He couldn’t hold his keys strongly. He felt it in his finger then went to see some doctors to find out what the problem was. He saw a lot but most couldn’t tell him the answer because they did not know why it was happening.

Zaliukas played in the national team alongside Mikoliunas, who was his room-mate for away trips.

“He was still in Scotland playing for Hearts and he told me when we were on international duty because he was my roommate.

“Nobody expected it to damage him so fast.”

The speed in which the illness took hold shocked his friend who attended the funeral on November 5 in Kaunas.

Saul added: “We knew what could happen but it affected him very fast. Even two years ago I was at his wedding and already you could see it had started to affect him. I last saw him three months after his wedding and spoke to him a year ago. I was texting him up until about seven months ago but he wasn’t answering me.

Saulius Mikoliunas was last in touch with his captain a few months ago.

“Maybe he couldn’t, or maybe he didn’t want to.

“His funeral was very difficult and it was hard to see for his family, especially his wife and mum. It was very sad."

And the forward, who played more than 100 times for Heart, paid tribute to Zaliukas who would have celebrated his 37th birthday tomorrow, when he spoke to the Edinburgh Football Show.

He added: “It was heartbreaking for everybody who knew Zal and what kind of person he was. He just stayed quietly with his wife. He wanted to spend the days he had left with his family.

Tributes have been left in honour of Zaliukas at Tynecastle .

"He was the kindest guy and so devoted to his family. He loved his life. When we were around him and saw this love he had, it was incredible.”

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