Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards: Time for heroes
Sport NI's Chief Executive Antoinette McKeown has spoken about the inspiration the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards bring to the people of Northern Ireland.
The gala ceremony at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Belfast takes place on Monday, January 20 when the great and good of sport in the country will gather together to celebrate the amazing achievements at home and abroad of our heroes in 2013.
A host of prizes, including the Sports Star of the Year trophy, will be handed out at the Awards, which have Linwoods as the title sponsor.
This will be the first time Sport NI's new Chief Executive, having taken up her post a few years ago, has attended the biggest and best sports awards show in Northern Ireland.
Ms McKeown is eagerly looking forward to the evening, stating how important it has become in the sporting calender.
"We feel it is absolutely vital that Sport NI are involved in the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards as they are a great recognition of our sporting heroes and the people behind them," she said.
"The awards are a real inspiration, not just for those who win them or are nominated in all the categories, but to everyone in sport throughout Northern Ireland because they show what can be achieved."
Sport NI will be sponsoring the Young Player of the Year and Sports Star with a Disability prizes at the Ramada as well as the Local Heroes award.
"The Local Heroes award is a really good fit for Sport NI and what we are about and the work we are doing with our Active Communities programme," added the Chief Executive.
"Sport NI have invested heavily (£13m) in the programme which is getting into the hearts and minds of local communities and helping them to use sport to transform people's lives and re-generate their communities.
"We are really proud of the programme because to date we have put in over 100 coaches on the ground enabling almost 100,000 participants to take part. We have increased participation in sport in the most deprived areas, we have increased significantly the number of females taking part in sport and the amount of disabled people and older people and that's what we are about... sport for everyone and that is why it is so important for us to support the Local Heroes Award.
"It will be my first time attending the Sports Awards and I can't wait to be in the same room as our sporting heroes and the whole sporting community in Northern Ireland. I think that is the beauty of the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards."
On the back of London 2012, Sport NI selected a host of our favourite stars to become sporting ambassadors for Northern Ireland.
Ms McKeown feels these heroes can spread the Sport NI message.
"Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop, who each won double gold at the Paralympics, for example are both sporting ambassadors for Sport NI and are just two of our athletes who we want to inspire youngsters," she explained.
"We are getting them into local communities and into schools so they can say 'if I can do it, you can do it too'.
"They have put Northern Ireland on the world stage, and so have our golfers who have done fantastically well in recent years. Martyn Irvine, the cyclist, is another who was exceptional in 2013 winning at the World Championships and then coming back from serious injury to win at the World Cup in Manchester.
"We were so proud of that because Sport NI staff working at the Sports Institute Northern Ireland (SINI) with Martyn helped him return to fitness. It's the resilience of people like Martyn that we want to instill in sports people here.
"I cannot emphasise enough the power sport plays in uniting our communities.
"There is a common identity and common language and that's an important message and something we are keen to work on."
Best Award winner has got a lot to live up to in the future
The list of previous winners of the George Best Breakthrough Award is mighty impressive.
And if they are anything to go by, the 2013 recipient of the prestigious prize at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards next week can expect further success in the years to come.
The Bestie award, which represents making a huge breakthrough in sport, was introduced after our greatest ever footballer passed away in 2005.
Those who have collected it in the past have felt mighty proud to take home a trophy bearing George's name.
The first winner was a young Steven Davis who all these years later is now an established Premier League footballer and the Northern Ireland captain. Manchester United star Jonny Evans is another footballer who won the award. Since then he has won several Premier League titles.
Famous stars from different sports have taken the Bestie prize such as golfer Rory McIlroy, who was named our 2012 Sports Star of the Year after claiming his second major and numerous other tournament successes that year.
In more recent times rower Peter Chambers was a George Best Breakthrough prize winner. Lifted by that at London 2012 Peter, along with his brother Richard, won a silver medal at the Olympics.
And talking about Olympic heroes, the Bestie award went to bronze medal winner Michael Conlan at the Belfast Telegraph awards last year. You get the feeling Michael will flourish in the ring in the future when he turns pro.
That's just some of the past winners. The question is who will win the 2013 George Best Breakthrough prize, which is sponsored by Ace Fixings?
We'll know on January 20 when Jackie Fullerton and Claire McCollum present the ceremony. It may be early in 2014, but it's sure to be one of the sporting nights of the year.
If you wish to be part of it and attend the glitzy black tie affair, doing some star spotting in the process, you can purchase tickets by contacting JPR on 028 90 760066.
Guests are advised to arrive at the event at 6.45pm.