–        Minister Ring Acknowledges Contribution of 500,000 while Presenting Awards to Eleven Sporting Volunteers

–        Special Award for Tipperary’s Liam Sheedy

–        Lifetime Award for Athletics Ronnie Long

–        Olympic Boxer’s Father is Youth Coach of the Year

–        Awards Shared by Ten Sports




20 November 2012, Aviva Stadium.   The Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring, TD, acknowledged the major contribution played by Irish sports 500,000 volunteers as he presented the “National Awards to Volunteers in Irish Sport” at a function held in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, earlier today.  In all he presented eleven awards across ten sports.


The “National Awards to Volunteers in Irish Sport” celebrates the contribution of those who volunteer across all of Irish sport.  In making the presentations Minister Ring acknowledged the contribution made by volunteers saying that without their incredible efforts sport as we know it in Ireland today would not exist.


The National Awards are a collaboration between the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Irish Sports Council and the Federation of Irish Sport which represents over 70 sports in Ireland.  This scheme is also supported by the Community Foundation of Ireland.
Among the recipients of this year’s awards were Liam Sheedy, who managed Tipperary to All Ireland Senior success in 2010.  He was nominated for his commitment to Tipperary hurling which has seen him manage hurling and camogie teams at all age levels in his home club of Portroe.

Hockey’s Sally Ann Fanagan took the Adult Manager of the Year title for her commitment to the sport which this year came so close to qualifying for the London Olympics. Another Olympic connection was provided by Oliver O’Neill, who won the Youth Coaching Award.  Oliver is the father of Darren O’Neill, captain of this year’s successful Irish Olympic boxing team.


A Lifetime Award was presented to athletics’ Ronnie Long who has served Irish athletics at every level from grassroots through to President of Athletics Ireland.  His work at county and regional level as an administrator and the passion and energy he brought all his life to athletics was honoured in the award.


The award winners were selected by a committee chaired by Olympic gold medal winner, Ronnie Delany.  Also on the committee were representatives from the Federation of Irish Sport, the Irish Sports Council, the Irish Times, RTE and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.


Speaking at the presentation of the awards Minister Ring said he was delighted to see the breadth of this year’s awards which took in ten sports.  He said the honours were all well-deserved for they demonstrated once again just how important volunteerism is in Irish sport as we know it today.  He said that despite the professionalism that has come into sport at all levels, volunteers still have a huge role to play.


“It is particularly interesting for me to see how some of the people we honour today have risen to the very top in Irish sport and yet they have given back so much to their sports by volunteering.  We see before us today people who have helped nurture young sportsmen and women who have gone on to participate at the Olympic Games.  We also are honouring a man today who not alone has nurtured hurling and camogie at every age group through to senior but who also has gone on to manage his native county to All Ireland Senior Hurling success.”


“For me all our winners epitomise true sportsmen and women who not alone get a great deal out of sport but perhaps just as importantly put a huge amount into sport.”


Also speaking at the awards ceremony Sarah O’Connor, Chief Executive of the Federation of Irish Sport, said:


“As Minister Ring has said today Irish sport would not exist without the efforts of the 500,000 people who volunteer so freely of their time every year.  This voluntary investment has been estimated to have an economic value equivalent of somewhere between €350 to €580 million each year.”


“I don’t think, however, you can really put a monetary value on just what volunteering means to sport in this country. To put it more simply the 1.7 million Irish people who actively participate in sport would simply not have the opportunity to do so if it weren’t for people like our volunteers today.”


“It is an effort that should not be taken for granted as without these volunteers not only would we cease to enjoy the successes achieved on the international stage but there would also be serious implications for public health at a time when obesity and other lifestyle induced chronic diseases are on the rise.”


The full list of award winners is as follows:


Winner Sport Role
Marian Fenton Swimming Adult coach
Sally Ann Fanagan Hockey Adult manager
Oliver O’Neill Boxing Youth coach
Stephen Leigh Basketball Youth manager
Rose Devine Soccer Community administrator
Brendan Dowling Martial arts National administrator
Colm and Shelagh Leech Special Olympics Disability sport
Mary Murray Gymnastics Ireland Sporting official
Ronnie Long Athletics Lifetime award
Liam Sheedy Gaelic Games Special recognition



Biographies of the award winners are appended to this press release.



For further information, please contact:-

Sarah O’Connor, Chief Executive, Federation of Irish Sport  tel:  086 804 8446


Caroline Ryan, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport tel: 01 604 1807





The Winners:


–        Adult Coach of the Year:  Marian Fenton, Swimming.
Marian Fenton (nee Cummins) has been involved in Irish swimming for over 40 years.  A member of a well-known swimming family her sister, Anne, was the first Irish woman to break 60 seconds for the 100m freestyle while her brother, David, swam in the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

Despite facing a number of serious battles with illness Marian has continued to teach and to coach and also to work in rehabilitating patients recovering from major surgery.  A team manager for Irish national squads she has also worked with the Irish Schools Swimming Association and has undertaken many different tasks with her own club, Cormorant.  A Swim Ireland tutor today she works to bring youth coaches and teachers into the sport.
–        Adult Manager of the Year:  Sally Ann Fanagan, Hockey.
Sally Anne Fanagan has been manager of the Irish Ladies Hockey Squad for the past six years.  She has juggled that role with a highly successful role in business.  Recently she announced her retirement from the hockey role to spend more time with her family.

A model of professionalism she has been at the heart of managing the success of the Irish Ladies Hockey team during that period, a success that culminated in the play off for the London 2012 Olympics.

A stickler for detail she ensured that the hockey squad wanted for nothing.  She ensured at all times that with her looking after the detail the squad could concentrate on the job at hand – playing.
–        Youth Coach:  Oliver O’Neill, Boxing.
Paulstown Boxing club was founded in 1972.  It is the longest running and most successful boxing club in the Laois / Kilkenny / Carlow area.  That this is so is mainly down to the work of one man, Oliver O’Neill.  Under his guidance the club has gone from strength to strength producing 25 Irish champions who between them have won 58 titles.  The club can also boast a European silver medallist and a member of this year’s Irish Olympic team – his son, Darren, who captained the Irish Boxing Team at the London Olympics.

He has coached several girl boxers to Irish titles and readily welcomed children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  He continues to train boxers from under age right up to senior – both boys and girls.
–        Youth Manager:  Stephen Leigh, Basketball
While County Clare may be predominantly a GAA county, Stephen Leigh has ensured that the sport of basketball continues to thrive in that county.  Since 2010 he has worked extremely closely with the Clare Local Sports Partnership to establish the Clare under age basketball league.  Since the start there are now ten new clubs operating in the county at under 13 and under 15 levels.
–        Community Administrator:  Rose Devine, Soccer
Rose Devine has worked as a volunteer in sport since the early 1970s.  Working in London she founded Croydon Camogie Club and was responsible for the setting up of a county board for camogie which is still going strong today.  She played both Gaelic football and camogie for London.


Returning to Ireland in 1996 she initially coached GAA in local Kildare clubs before founding Prosperous United in 1998 where she served in a number of roles including secretary from 2008 -2010. In 2009 she started up the Kildare Girls Soccer League which today play in the Dublin Metro League. Rose is also involved in Community Games.


–        National Administrator: Brendan Dowling, Martial Arts
Brendan first became involved in the administration of Irish Martial Arts Commission as its chairperson over 20 years ago.  He has been a key figure in bringing together the various martial arts activities in Ireland. He has been one of the pioneers of martial arts coach development and has taken personal responsibility for much of the administration and record keeping that is required by a national governing body today.  In 2008 he was elected the first president of the Irish Martial Arts Commission.

Despite all of his administrative duties he remains a frontline martial arts instructor for both adults and young people.  He has been an activist in the promotion of all aspects of “inclusion in sport” at community, city and national levels.
–        Disabilities Sports Volunteer: Colm and Shelagh Leech, Special Olympics
Shelagh and Colm Leech have been volunteers with Special Olympics for over 15 years during which time they have taken on a variety of different roles working at national, regional and local club levels.  Their daughter, Tara, is a participant in the Special Olympics in the sports of gymnastics, basketball, athletics and golf.

In 1989 Shelagh and Colm were among a group of parents to establish a Special Olympics Club in Bray.  This is one of the first community based clubs in Special Olympics.  They went on to found a further club in Blackrock.  As strong advocates and shining examples of the role family members can play in such an organisation Shelagh and Colm have been leaders in the family programme for Special Olympics since its earliest days.

Experts in event management Shelagh and Colm have helped out many of their peers in ensuring that events both looked well and ran properly.  Shelagh and Colm were heavily involved in the development of a Special Olympics town, a themed fun centre at the National Games.  It was no surprise when Shelagh was asked to take on the overall management of the Special Olympics town for the 2003 Special Olympics World Games in Dublin.
–        Sporting Official: Mary Murray, Gymnastics
Mary Murray has been a volunteer in Gymnastics Ireland for over 20 years during which period she has worked in many capacities as a coach, judge and a member of the women’s technical committee.  She has been an international judge for the last six years.

Mary has helped in the development of the new competition programme which was implemented five years ago and every year she helps to update this programme and the rules.  She has worked tirelessly in the interests of her sport of gymnastics never seeking recognition.  She has organised and coordinated all of the women’s national championships over the past three years.  It is very rare that a women’s national championship takes place without Mary judging at the competition.
–        Lifetime Award: Ronnie Long, Athletics
Ronnie Long has served athletics in every role possible.  He has done immeasurable work at all levels from grassroots with his club through to serving as President of Athletics Ireland.  He has travelled to the Olympic Games as manager and has also spent years working at county and regional level as an administrator.

Ronnie has applied energy and passion to all aspects of his life in athletics and this passion is undimmed today as he enters his 78th year.
–        Special Recognition:  Liam Sheedy, Hurling
Tipperary’s All Ireland Winning Hurling Manager in 2010, Liam Sheedy, was nominated for the award by Portroe his local GAA club for his “tireless commitment to coaching our club’s under age hurling teams, Under 8, Under 10, Under 12, Under 14 and Under 16 as well as Portroe Camogie Club’s under age girls of similar age groups”.  He has also coached all of the club’s senior teams.  In his time Liam has also coached both the Tipperary Minor and Senior All Ireland hurlers, with both of whom he has enjoyed All Ireland success.

He has been involved with Portroe since his teenage years and his input into coaching at the club culminated this year in the historic achievement of the club winning its first North Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship.