Sports personalities and gaels from all over Britain and Ireland were honoured at the Irish World 30th anniversary awards last week, as those who have inspired at national and community level were recognised.
Martin O’Neill said he was ‘extremely appreciative’ to the ‘larger than life’ Mr Paddy Cowan for his prestigious Lifetime Achievement for Services to Soccer award, while Marty Morrissey said he was ‘still in a state of shock’ after getting the call that he would receive a Services to Broadcasting award.
As well as the household names, the awards honoured those who have dedicated their lives here at a community level. Tom Denning, chairman of London club Dulwich Harps, received a ‘Services to Sport in the Local Community’ award. Tom has been an active member of the wider London GAA circle over the past 30 years and has been a stalwart figure in developing the youth system within the club and has consistently progressed Dulwich at senior level in both men and Ladies codes respectively.
Outside of London, each one of the counties of the ‘fifth province’ of Britain were also recognised. In Scotland, Peter Mossey accepted a special award for the services he has given to GAA. The Professor of Dentistry at Aberdeen University, has spent decades in developing and promoting our national games in institutions of higher education. Under his guardianship British colleges and universities have flourished when competing against their counterparts in Ireland, and the games have hugely increased the uptake of gaelic games amongst a previously untouched community.
For Yorkshire, Michael Conrecode received the accolade. He was singled out for his many years of service to the county board, where he has served at nearly every level whilst also remaining an active member of his Brothers Pearses club. His continued input and leadership is evident more than ever now due to decreased involvement in Yorkshire in more challenging times over the past few years.
In Warwickshire, Noel McLean was honoured to recognise the decades of hard work he has put in to support the GAA community there. After serving the Sean McDermotts as chairman for over a quarter of a century, the Cork native is still a driving force behind the running of the club as he reached his 70th year.
He first arrived in England from Skibereen in 1964, at the age of 16, and by 1970 he had won his first senior championship. By the time he had stopped playing at the age of 50 in 1997, he had won nine senior football championships, three All- Britain titles, 17 senior hurling titles, as well as captaining Warwickshire to a junior All-Ireland in 1973 when they beat Louth. He also went on to have a lot of success as senior and junior manager of his club, and he is still a go-to for advice from current players.
Away from the games, Noel was also a driving force in obtaining the planning permission, designing and building Pairc na hEireann. He was chairman of the committee that raised £135,000, and helped with the construction and is now a trustee of the provincial ground. He, and his family, are continued supporters of gaelic games, whether it be finding new arrivals work, fundraising, or getting his wife Mary to wash kits or pick players up.
And the bug has been passed down, with many of his children and grandchildren still playing, his daughter Michelle serves as secretary of Sean McDermotts, while his son Adrian is chair of the 100 club and son Noel runs underage teams in the county.
In Hertfordshire, Willie Joyce was honoured for his decades of hard work, where he has continued to be a loyal servant to the county.
Liam Coyne was honoured for his services to Lancashire over the past 30 years, as the current senior football county manager has come through the underage ranks to win almost every title as a player. And in his first year as manager in 2016, he guided his team to an All-Britain title, as they beat the hotly-favoured London in the final to go on and contest Kerry in the Junior All- Ireland series.
In Gloucestershire, PJ Wade was awarded a special accolade for all of the years of service he has given to the county board there.
Prizes were also given out to Teams of the Year, with all four recipients based in London.
London senior football champions St Kiernans were honoured for winning their first ever senior title after beating Tir Chonaill Gaels in the final. Player Patrick Begley, manager Chris Byrne and chairperson Jerome O’Shea collected the award.
Tom Redmond, Robert Emmetts chairman accepted the hurling award, after the club he chairs claimed a successive senior title in 2016, and reached an All-Ireland semi-final against Carrickshock.
Tara were given the Camogie Team of the Year award, after they won their eighth successive senior title in their 30th anniversary year in 2016.
Parnells won Ladies Football team of the Year, as they capped off a tremendous season which saw them win the London, Britain and World Games titles.
And Katie-George Dunlevy secured the Greatest Sporting Achievement of 2016 award, after her outstanding performance at the Rio Paralympics. The Crawley-born cyclist, and her tandem Eve McCrystle, won gold and silver in Brazil, culminating in years of hard work and dedication.
Martin O’Neill took to the stage to accept his award, and joked that it was nice to be in attendance with his daughters, in a room in London ‘with more Irish people than Kilburn’. He reflected on a tremendous 2016, saying that the Euros were ‘fantastic’.
“I have to say that the first game against Sweden, where 35,000 fans came into the stadium in France, was just extraordinary.
“The atmosphere was electric and something the players, and I, will never forget. The win against Italy in Lille was exceptional and unfortunately like life that is forgotten and we look on to the world cup qualifiers.”
When accepting his award, Marty Morrissey said that he and his RTE colleagues, many of whom joined him on the night, were privileged to still be a part of the diaspora’s life.
“More than anybody else I understand the great community work that the Irish abroad do, whether it be London, Manchester or Dubai or New York,” he said. “For the first 11 years of my life I was brought up in the Bronx in New York, and like all Irish, my father tried to listen to the late, great Michael O’Hehir, by sticking the antenna out of the window and that brought him back to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day.
“And last September when I was privileged enough to be given the job that the great Michael O’Murtaigh did, I put a call out on Twitter on the Saturday reaching out to the Irish diaspora to know where would they be listening to the All Ireland.
“Some smart alec said he would be in a kitchen in Raheny! But as more came in you felt a great sense of pride that these people worldwide would be listening to the hurling final.
“To be given the microphone that day was a rare honour and privilege. My colleagues and I understand we have the privilege of going into people’s homes, and we are delighted that people over here even know us. We are a great little island in the northern part of Europe.”
He went on to mention his broadcasting heroes Sir Terry Wogan, Gay Byrne and Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh before acknowledging the work Dara O Briain, also in attendance, and Graham Norton are doing on British television today.
“Thank you Paddy Cowan and all of you over here, and don’t ever forget we are linked to you, and I hope through our services on RTE you continue to listen and watch what inspires you. Thank you for thinking of me as you celebrate your 30th anniversary.”
Look out in the coming weeks for more in-depth stories from each of our award winners.