Belfast Telegraph

The future is bright as our starlets continue to shine

By Steven Beacom

There is something special about playing alongside your friends in a young sports team.

For some, it can be the highlight of their sporting careers. For others, it can be the launch pad to huge success in adult life. For all, it tends to be an unforgettable experience.

At the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards on Monday night at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, one of the most sought after prizes will be the Young Team of the Year for 2016. It is a category never shy of contenders and will be sponsored by Subway.

The Young Team of the Year award will be won by a side whose members are aged 19 or under on December 31, 2016.

Over the past couple of decades, hockey sides have enjoyed a fair degree of success in this category and will be in the running again.

Banbridge Academy Senior Boys First XI, for instance, had a fine year winning the Burney Cup, while the Methody Girls Senior hockey side claimed the Belfast Telegraph Schools' Cup for the first time in 28 years before going on to take home the All-Ireland Kate Russell Cup.

In GAA, St Pat's, Maghera were victorious in the MacRory Cup final and on the same afternoon in March, RBAI's first XV retained the rugby Schools' Cup, completing quite a year for the school with their 2nds, 3rds and Medallion teams lifting their respective trophies.

There was also much joy for the Lisburn Ladies U15 Football team, who were undefeated as they won the IFA U15 League and enjoyed success in a National Girls Tournament. The Sacred Heart Grammar School Under-16 netball squad had plenty to cheer too, lifting both the Northern Ireland league and cup titles, while Portora School Boat Club claimed the junior men's rowing championship of Ireland for the third consecutive year.

These are just some of the impressive young squads that the judges discussed when coming up with a winner and shortlist for this competitive category.

The judges were 1972 Olympic champion and legend Dame Mary Peters, respected former hockey ace Angela Platt, representing the NI Sports Forum, Director of Performance at Sports Institute Northern Ireland (SINI) Shaun Ogle and chairperson of the panel, Belfast Telegraph Group Sports Editor Jim Gracey.

The youngsters will join with the great and good of Northern Ireland sport when the Awards are hosted by television presenters Craig Doyle and Claire McCollum on Monday night.

On sponsoring the Young Team Award, Scot Hayes, Chairman of the Subway NI Marketing Board, said: "Subway stores are delighted to sponsor this award for another year.

"Subway are firm believers in recognising the talents and achievements of young sports enthusiasts at a grassroots level.

"Subway stores are all locally owned and operated by individual franchisees who work in the heart of local communities.

"We believe that the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards are the ideal platform to recognise and reward the teams and coaches who dedicate so much of their time and effort to their sport."