Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland heroes of sport honoured at Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards

 

By Allan Preston

The cream of Northern Ireland's sporting world attended the Waterfront Hall last night for the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.

There was no shortage of sporting glory to toast last night - from Jonathan Rea's third World Superbike title win, as well as an inspiring World Cup qualifying campaign from the Northern Ireland football team.

And indeed, it was Rea's motorcycling heroics on the racetrack that earned him our top award at last night's glitzy ceremony - Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill said: "Tonight brings home how much of a role sport plays in Northern Ireland and what we've achieved, so I always enjoy it."

Asked how he was handling his status as a sporting icon following two thrilling international campaigns, O'Neill - who is expected to pledge his long-term future to Northern Ireland - said: "To have such a good national team is a big thing for everyone in Northern Ireland.

"We've had a great four years and we want to continue.

"We've a big challenge ahead of us for Euro 2020, and we're trying to keep the team together and grow the team.

"But I see the response of the Northern Ireland public and it was a big factor in me staying on in the job."

Olympic gold medallist Dame Mary Peters, who served on the awards committee, said she was thrilled by the wealth of sporting talent on show last night.

"A few years ago people never thought we'd have the quality. But I tell you what - every category this year was really worthwhile. Great stars of the present and the future," she said.

"We had a really difficult job co-ordinating our views on the panel.

"It's wonderful and I just think it's a shame we don't have a museum to applaud all these young people.

"When you look at our success in things like golf and motorcycle racing, sport does such a great job in Northern Ireland - we really punch above our weight."

Tyrone senior Gaelic football team manager Mickey Harte said: "There's not many events like this that have such a broad appeal to all of the sports people in this part of the world that we live in.

"It's great for people to come together and have a bit of fun." He added that winning back-to-back Ulster titles was a joy after a six-year break.

"We had a bad end to the season when we met Dublin in Croke Park but we can reflect on progress made," he said.

Outside of GAA, he praised Michael O'Neill's footballers as his standout performers.

"To see Northern Ireland do so well in the World Cup qualifiers, even thought they were so unlucky, a lot of people were so happy at how they played," he said.

A total of 14 awards were up for grabs at last night's star-studded ceremony.

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