Sports Awards: George Best prize will reward top rising star
Who is destined to follow in the footsteps of Northern Ireland sporting giants like Rory McIlroy and Iain Henderson?
The George Best Breakthrough honour at the annual Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards has consistently has consistently recognised and future major talent, none bigger than winner Rory McIlroy.
The award is sponsored by social enterprise group Greater London Leisure through their local Better gyms operation.
It is fitting that the award bears Best’s name, given his breakthrough into footballing superstardom with his double strike against Benfica for Manchester United in the 1966 European Cup quarter-final, and his legacy lives on in this category.
Unlike most of the other awards, the Breakthrough award does not have a list of nominees, rather the winner will be announced on the night instead, and the accolade over the years has typically gone to sportspeople who have gone on to make a significant mark in the following years. Previous winners include four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy; footballers Niall McGinn, Craig Cathcart, Conor McLaughlin and Michael McGovern and accomplished boxers Martin Rogan and Michael Conlan.
Also among the previous winners are British and Irish Lions player Iain Henderson, Olympic silver medallist rower Peter Chambers and former world champion cyclist Martyn Irvine.
It’s an esteemed list and it also reflects the standards that are required when selecting who will win the award.
The winner will have been somebody who was perhaps not that well known before 2017, but their exploits throughout the year will have garnered them national awareness by the end of the year.
The winner need not have won an individual award over the year, but rather their achievements will have elevated them to a much higher level in their sport and will have boosted their profile in Northern Ireland.
As the excellent list of previous winners suggests, they will certainly be someone to watch out for in 2018 and in the years to come.
The award is sponsored by GLL, the UK’s largest leisure operator, who run the Better leisure centres in Belfast and have been supporting local sporting stars through their Sports Foundation.
The Foundation is an athlete-focused support programme providing athletes across the UK with tangible support to aid their sports performance, and works in tandem with the Mary Peters Trust.
Support provided by GLL includes training membership access to over 300 venues across the UK, access to physio and injury rehab support and financial awards up to the value of £1,250.
Northern Ireland wheelchair racer Jack Agnew, who has been nominated for two Belfast Telegraph awards — the Young Player of the Year and Sports Person with a Disability award — is supported by the Foundation and has praised them for the work they do.
“GLL have been so supportive of me and I appreciate their help in promoting me and my sport,” Agnew commented.
“I had a knee operation last year which meant I wasn’t able to use my racing wheelchair to train. However, I had access to the gym at Girdwood Community Hub, one of the Better facilities in Belfast where I could use the hand cycle which meant I was able to maintain a level of fitness to compete at the Para Athletics World Junior Championships four weeks later.
“Having accessible facilities to train in with the best equipment to support my training needs has been incredible.
“When young people see me on TV taking part in the Commonwealth Games, it might inspire them to get involved in Para Sport too.”