Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards showed just how much of an inspiration our heroes can be

Martin O'Neill and Hanna Shields, who both hail from Kilrea, met up at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards

Martin O'Neill was chatting to Mark Anscombe, Barry McGuigan was talking with Mickey Harte, David Healy was sharing a joke with Tommy Bowe, Michael Dunlop was smiling as he had a word with Tony McCoy.

That's the beauty of the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards. They bring sporting greats together.

These people are normally so busy being the best at what they do that they don't get the chance to speak to people they genuinely admire.

On Monday night at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast, there was time to kick back and converse with heroes from other disciplines.

It was wonderful to see and to think that these great sporting stars hail from our tiny corner of the world.

(Kiwi Mark Anscombe is well on his way to becoming an adopted Ulsterman the way his Ulster team have delivered in the Heineken Cup so far this season).

Much like our future boxing world champion Carl Frampton, whose personality and charisma shone through on and off stage on Monday night, Northern Ireland sport sure does pack a punch.

In years gone by World Cup heroes such as Pat Jennings, Martin O'Neill, Gerry Armstrong and Billy Hamilton, rugby icons Jack Kyle and Syd Millar, boxing sensation McGuigan, rallying legend Paddy Hopkirk, motorcycling great Phillip McCallen, Olympic gold hockey winning star Jimmy Kirkwood and Everest conquering mountaineer Hannah Shields have thrilled us.

All were there at the Tele function along with more recent stars like blind water-ski champion Janet Gray, Paralympian track king Michael McKillop, Paralympic gold medal swimmer Bethany Firth, World Champion boxer Brian Magee and World Champion cyclist Wendy Houvenaghal, not forgetting the likes of McCoy, Healy, Frampton, Dunlop, Bowe and Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte, who gave the most dignified and touching speech after being inducted into our sporting Hall of Fame.

If you didn't know it already, walking into that big room and seeing those faces and many more who have graced their fields with distinction, you would realise that Northern Ireland has produced an abundance of sporting talent.

And right now like never before we have more people at youth and elite level up there with the best in the world and in the case of McCoy, he's quite simply the best of all time.

This truly is a golden era – think of our golfers winning majors recently and our Olympic medal winning rowers and boxers last year – and a period to celebrate what we are achieving around the globe.

It should also be used as inspiration to show our youngsters, with aspirations of sporting greatness, what can be achieved with hard work and dedication.

It's not just ability that gets you to the top. You need to put the effort in too. Each and every award winner at our Sports Awards would tell you that.

Northern Ireland's greatest goalscorer David Healy said to me afterwards he'd love to bottle the feeling of hunger to succeed that emanated from the stars inside the room on Monday night and let our future footballers drink it in. Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill, also in attendance, would concur.

The place was buzzing, with guests high on the joy that sport provides.

Thanks to everyone involved for making it such a special evening. We look forward to our heroes shining some more in 2014.

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