Unsung heroes honoured at awards ceremony
VOLUNTEERS IN SPORT:High profile, low profile, no profile, it didn’t matter yesterday in the Aviva Stadium. As the awards season kicks off, the unsung heroes of the sporting world were honoured. The back room foot soldiers, the people who ensure the referee turns up, the grass on the pitch is cut, the lights come on and that the clubs and federations do not fall into chaos lined up to be told perhaps for the only time that their efforts have not gone unnoticed.
From women’s hockey and Special Olympics to martial arts, boxing and hurling, largely unknown men and women stepped forward to accept awards for their challenging and generally unrewarded work in sport across 10 national bodies. In the Irish context there are over 500,000 volunteers in Ireland and Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring presented awards across the 10 sports.
A collaboration between the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Irish Sports Council (ISC) and the Federation of Irish Sports (FIS), the Adult Manager of the Year award went to Sally Ann Fanagan, manager of the Irish women’s hockey team for the past six years. The women’s team almost qualified for the Olympic Games this year but Fanagan’s long-time input reaches way back to her Loreto days as a player and manager.
Somewhat closer to the Olympics was Oliver O’Neill, father of the Irish boxing team captain Darren. A lifelong supporter and coach in Paulstown BC, Oliver won the Youth Coach of the Year award.
Other winners came from the Special Olympics, swimming, soccer, athletics, basketball, martial arts, gymnastics and the GAA. Shelagh and Colm Leech, who have been volunteers with the Special Olympics for 15 years, won the Disabilities Sports Award.
The winners were selected by a committee chaired by 1956 1,500m Olympic gold medal winner Ronnie Delany with representatives of FIS, ISC, The Irish Times, RTÉ and the Department of Transport Tourism and Sport.
“Irish Sport would not exist without the efforts of the 500,000 people who volunteer so freely with their time every year. This voluntary investment has been estimated to have an economic value equivalent to somewhere between €350 to €580 million each year,” said Sarah O’Connor, chief executive of the FIS.
There were several top sporting names at the ceremony including Darren O’Neill, who captained Ireland’s most successful boxing team to a gold, silver and two bronze medals at London 2012, swimmer Melanie Nocher, international hockey players Lisa Jacob and Alex Speers, as well as Tipperary hurling star Pádraic Maher.
As a top intercounty player, Maher has had close-at-hand knowledge of Liam Sheedy, who was given a Special Recognition award for his energy in coaching under age players in his home club Portroe.
“His record over the last 10 years speaks for itself,” said Maher. “What he’s done for Tipperary hurling is fantastic. For my career he brought us all into the minor team in 2006 and we managed to win the All-Ireland. Then he brought us all into the Tipperary senior panel in 2009 and had a bit of success there too.”