A PASSION for sport and inspiring others has helped a Clonoe man overcome his hearing difficulties and become a key member of his local GAA club.
In recent days Gerard O’Neill, a committed Clonoe O’Rahilly’s fan, became the first winner of the Volunteer of the Year award, a new category at the Sport NI coaching awards.
Gerard has been volunteering for the club for a number of years, dividing his time between helping out teams from under-six all the way up to senior and inter county level.
But his commitment to the sport goes still further, as he has been the kit man for the Tyrone minor team for the last few years, working at least two evenings a week and plus one day at the weekend as the team travels all over Ireland throughout the season.
Despite working full time in a local supermarket, Gerard still manages to dedicate 20 hours per week volunteering at the club and he even takes a week’s annual leave from his job every year to help out at Clonoe O’Rahilly’s children’s Summer camp.
“Everyone in our club has the utmost respect for this man,” said Shane McCann, a fellow member of O’Rahilly’s.
“Gerard is a tremendous man, not only does he help out at the matches but he also sells the club lottery tickets as well as supporting at fundraising events, all whilst holding down a full time job. He’s always spotted out and about the town wearing the club merchandise and everyone knows him.”
Shane said Gerard knows the names of all 330 players in the club – a true testament to his dedication.
He continued, “There is no one else in the club who volunteers as much time to Clonoe O’Rahilly’s. Gerard is a member of the deaf community and does not speak, but he doesn’t let his disability hold him back.
“Even though his communication is affected, he is still able to communicate with both the young and the old, through his passion for sport.”
Further tributes were paid by the chairperson of Sport NI, George Lucas.
He said, “Gerard has played an instrumental role in the success of Clonoe O’Rahilly’s, with his continued volunteering and support, he has helped the club grow and engage local people through sport.
“He’s an inspirational character, actively involved in sport at all levels and supporting his club with remarkable enthusiasm and commitment. It is great to be recognising sportmakers like Gerard at the 2017 COV Awards and on behalf of Sport NI, I congratulate him on this richly deserved award.”
Gerard received his award from Sport NI performance systems manager Alan Curran at Carrickmore St Colmcilles GAC during the Under16 League final between Clonoe O’Rahilly’s and Errigal Ciaran.