ALL of the greatest competitors in sport have one quality in common. Whether it is playing on through pain and agony in any game, or diving on the ball at the feet of the All Blacks, or braving the insults of homophobic fans, or just getting into any boxing ring knowing that you are going to be punched in the face, the greatest in sport – and sometimes just ordinary players – display courage of the highest order.

At the weekend we saw two amazing examples of courage by two former sportsmen who had both played at the highest level in their sport.

Doddie Weir and Fernando Ricksen could have chosen to stay out of the limelight and quietly live out what days they have left before motor neurone disease robs them of life, as it always does – no one has ever been cured of the disease. Instead, they have chosen to make public the fatal diagnosis and in doing so they have made us all realise how devastating MND is.

I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing both men while they were playing and both Doddie and Fernando struck me as thoroughly decent individuals, and I’m not just saying that with the benefit of hindsight because I wrote it at the time.

My favourite Doddie moment took place during the Scotland v Wales Five Nations match in 1995, when Doddie collected Gavin Hastings’ pass – would someone please alter the Wikipedia entry on that? – and burst from the 22 to feed Kenny Logan whose mazy run ended with an offload to Eric Peters for one of the great Scottish tries.

In my mind’s eye I can still see the look of joy on the big fellow’s face as Scotland celebrated.

To see him walking slowly on to the pitch with his boys at Murrayfield on Saturday was at once both very sad and very powerful with his message that a cure can be found.

As a player, Fernando Ricksen had his moments of indiscipline but I recall his sheer guts and never-say-die attitude.

His Old Firm debut for Rangers in 2000 saw him last just a quarter of the match before he was substituted – Celtic were three up by then and Bobby Petta had taken Fernando apart – so that he was spared further humiliation as Celtic ran out 6-2 winners.

Yet Fernando came back and he became a real Rangers hero, jointly winning with John Hartson the Players’ Player of the Year award for season 2004/05 as Rangers won a league and league cup double.

To come back from a start like that to being acknowledged by your peers as the joint best in the land took immense fortitude.

Back in 2002, I also interviewed another victim of MND who happened to be a particular hero of mine, namely Jimmy Johnstone.

For Celtic against Red Star Belgrade in 1968 he gave the greatest individual performance on a football field that I have ever seen and through all the ups and downs of his career I remained a huge fan.

When I went along to interview him at his home in Lanarkshire I dreaded the encounter because I doubted my ability to retain my composure when greeting my hero who had been brought so low by MND. Instead I spent most of my hour or so in fits of laughter as he told story after story and cracked a joke after joke. Yes, he was serious at times, but when I left the house I had a deep feeling of being inspired by his courage.

Suddenly all my worries seemed so trivial compared to what Jinky was going through, and despite a prognosis that was pessimistic, Jinky battled on for more than four years.

I told as many people as I could at his funeral in 2006 just how brave Jimmy Johnstone had been and how he had been so positive that the cure for MND would be found eventually. He knew it would come too late for him but had the firm belief that medical science would one day conquer this dreadful disease.

There will be a cure one day, but only when governments stop spending money on nuclear weapons they can never use and start investing in the research that is needed to end the curse of MND.

I suspect that a lot of people were like me when watching Saturday’s scenes at Murrayfield and Ibrox when these two heroes – for that is what they are – made their entrances.

It’s not easy to surreptitiously wipe away a tear or two when what you really want to do is blub at the sight of two good men facing up to their end with extraordinary courage.

I’ll admit to having had a wee greet at the weekend, but now I have the same feeling that I had after talking to Jinky – that we can unite as a species, set aside our troubles and yes, beat MND and all the other killers that shorten our brief lives.

So I for one want to say thank you to Doddie and Fernando for the awesome courage they are showing in putting MND in the public eye, and the best thing we could do is for us all to start putting pressure on our politicians to deliver the necessary funds to find that evasive cure.