Belfast Telegraph

In Pictures: Stars net £20,000 for Special Olympics

By Nikki McWilliams

There are no busier or in-demand sportsmen and women at present than our rugby players, Olympians and gaelic footballers.

Yet six of the best of them gave up their time in the midst of packed fixture schedules and contractual commitments to help ensure three young Special Olympians achieve their dream of competing at next year's Winter Games in South Korea in January.

Take a bow Ulster rugby star Rory Best and his pin-up Ireland team-mate Rob Kearney of Leinster, Olympic legend Dame Mary Peters, London 2012 boxing silver medallist Michael Conlan and Down gaelic footballers Danny Hughes and Benny Coulter.

Between them, they helped raise a massive £20,000 for sports charity Special Olympics Ulster at a night of the stars in Belfast's Shaw's Bridge Ramada Hotel.

Joining them, centre stage, were young local Special Olympians Rosalind Connolly from Portadown, Lucy Best from Lisburn and Ryan Hill from Richill who are getting set to represent Ireland in the Games alpine ski-ing events.

Special Olympics Ulster patron and host for the evening, broadcaster Gerry Kelly interviewed the sports stars in front of a live audience, treating dinner guests to an entertaining panel discussion on their sporting and personal lives.

And their involvement didn't end there. Coaching sessions, taken personally by the rugby and gaelic football aces, came under the hammer at auction, contributing to over half the £20,000 raised.

Competitiveness kicked in, too, as Rob Kearney, who had travelled straight from a Leinster Heineken Cup match, insisted on the bidding for his prize starting at the £4,000 mark, paid for a coaching clinic with his Ulster rivals Rory Best and Stephen Ferris.

“Leinster always has to go one better than Ulster,” he joked.

Boxer Michael Conlan, for his part, took time out from his brother's Saturday night birthday party to attend.

Delighted Ronan McCay, regional fundraising co-ordinator for Special Olympics Ulster, said: “We would like to thank our sports stars — Rory Best, Rob Kearney, Michael Conlan, Mary Peters, Danny Hughes and Benny Coulter — as well as our patrons and volunteers for making this event such a success. The money raised will help to support our athletes as they continue to feel the life-changing effects of being involved with Special Olympics Ulster.”

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott was also in attendance, underlining his support for the Special Olympics fund-raising efforts of his local police Torch Run team.

Assistant Chief Constable, Will Kerr, who chairs the Law Enforcement Torch Run initiative and is a patron of Special Olympics Ulster, confirmed: “We are delighted to work with Special Olympics Ulster. The young athletes inspire and set an example to us all. The dedication they show to their sport is no less than that of any other athlete and they deserve our full support.”

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