Coaches, Clubs, Officials and Volunteers Celebrated at Annual Awards Evening
25 January 2017
Lord Mayor of Belfast Alderman Brian Kingston and UK Athletics’ Chair Ed Warner were among the guests of honour at this year’s Athletics NI Annual Awards Evening. Other guests included Chair of the Mary Peters Trust Eilish Rutherford and local pioneering Olympian Maeve Kyle OBE.
The awards evening held on Wednesday 25 January at Titanic Belfast, honoured athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers from across Northern Ireland for their hard work and achievements during the 2015/2016 season.
The evening began by recognising the athletes and their personal coaches who achieved International Selection during 2016. Tom Crick Director of Coaching & Athlete Development said, “The recognition of coaches alongside their athletes is a key feature of our team’s drive to raise the status of coaching and volunteering in Athletics.”
2016 saw six Northern Ireland records broken, including three by Ciara Mageean (Club: UCD; Coach: Jerry Kiernan) in the 800m, 1500m and Mile. North Down’s Aaron Sexton (Roger Sexton) was also honoured for his U18 200m record as were City of Lisburn duo Megan Marrs (Tom Reynolds) for her U20 100m record and Andrew Barkley (Jackie McKernan) for his U20 Discus Record.
Mageean’s coach Jerry Kiernan also picked up the Performance Coach of the Year award in recognition of his efforts guiding her to Bronze in the 1500m at the European Championships in Amsterdam, Netherlands. This was the first major individual medal won by a Northern Irish Athlete at a major non-disability championship since Paul McKee secured Bronze at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in 2003.
In a reversal of last year’s result Disability Performance Coach of the Year, was awarded to Clarence Callender for his work guiding T13 100m sprinter Jason Smyth to Gold at the Rio Paralympic Games. Callender pipped Paddy McKillop, coach to T37 1500m Rio Gold Medallist Michael McKillop, to the award based purely on the relative standard of Jason’s winning time.
This year the award for Junior Performance Coach of the Year was shared by St. Gerard’s AC’s Michael O’Connor and Finn Valley AC’s Niall Wilkinson. Michael received the award for his work with daughter Kate O’Connor who achieved 7th at European Youth Championships in Tbilisi. However, a special mention was made to the other members of Kate’s coaching team which include: Adam McMullen, Dessie Gough, Francis O’Hagan, Laura Kerr and Tom Reynolds.
Niall Wilkinson shared the award for his work with high jumper Sommer Lecky (Finn Valley) who finished the season ranked 10th in Europe as an U18 and made the final at the European Youth Championships.
Meanwhile, Development Coach of the Year went to Ballymena and Antrim AC’s Ian Neely. Over the past several seasons Ian has developed Christine McMahon (Ballymena & Antrim AC) from a promising junior right through to achieving the Olympic qualification standard, albeit 5 days too late for Rio. Ian also tutors on the UKA Athletics Coach award where he is a strong advocate for taking a long-term approach to athlete development.
Community Coach of the Year was awarded to North Belfast Harriers’ Matt Shields for his work within the local community as well as his part in setting up Parkrun across the province. Parkrun has given thousands of people an opportunity to challenge themselves in a friendly, accessible environment. The weekly timed runs are held in parks across Northern Ireland and are regularly attended by both recreational runners as well as some of Northern Ireland’s top athletes.
This year a new category was added to the awards list. Ollie Wakefield became the first Young Coach of the Year in recognition of his work with North Down AC. Ollie has also become an invaluable member of the Bangor Rising Stars team where his organisational and athlete management skills have been highly commended.
In 2016 Newcastle AC placed several athletes on international teams, while Steeplechaser Kerry O’Flaherty made it all the way to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The club’s diverse membership base makes it one of the few clubs to have beginners training alongside elite athletes on a regular basis. All this helped the County Down club secure the Performance Club of the Year award over stiff competition.
Of course, these great performances would not be possible without the officials and volunteers who regularly turn out to support the sport. This year the awards panel presented the Volunteer of the Year award to Liam McGarry. The award honours his dedication to Belfast Running Club, where he works with a diverse range of participants including a small number with intellectual disabilities.
The Officials Committee named Liz Glover as Official of the Year. Liz’s tireless work with the photo finish equipment means she often arrives early to competitions and leaves after everyone else. As an experienced official Liz is often involved in major competitions over the water but also finds time to volunteer for far smaller meets including Athletics NI’s annual Rising Stars competition.
Attending her first Awards evening as President of Athletics NI, Pam Brown presented Joy Alexander with his award for Services to Officiating. Over the years, Joy has become one of the ‘ever present’. She heads the Track and Field Competitions Committee, regularly attending meetings with British Athletics and has officiated at some of the world’s most prestigious Diamond League competitions.
The final award of the evening was the “Sean Kyle Award for Services to Coaching”, named after the legendary Ballymena & Antrim coach who sadly passed away in 2015. Sean’s wife Maeve Kyle OBE was in attendance to present the award to this year’s winner Claire Scarth.
Claire has been involved with Athletics for over 40 years at North Down AC. The Bangor based coach was one of the first to promote the multi-event approach to developing young athletes and over the years has helped numerous athletes’ progress to international level and go on to represent Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games. Many of her athletes have also gone on to set Northern Irish records, the most recent of which was Ben Reynolds who ran 13.48s over 110m Hurdles in 2015. Claire continues to work tirelessly for the club and remains an inspiration to all.
To view the awards picture gallery, CLICK HERE