Alex Whelan, Head Coach, Blind Football Ireland

Alex began as a simple assistant 4 years ago with Blind Football Ireland, which helps facilitate the participation of people with a vision impairment to partake in football, both at a recreational level as well as a competitive level. Having spotted some potential in the players taking part, and for his sheer love of the sport, he decided to take a more active role and help some of the players (who had played mainstream football prior to losing their sight) reach their dreams and play International football for their country.

Through organising nationwide sessions for the players to develop their skills and technical work, as well as his attention to detail, he helped get the players to a competitive level within 12 months and formed Ireland’s first ever blind football club team (BFI Dublin). He took the team to several small competitions across Europe to gain some invaluable experience of playing the sport.

By 2016 the current squad had been competing at a club level for several months and an opportunity arose to compete in the 2017 European Championships qualifying tournament as Ireland. He worked tirelessly with the players to improve their fitness and technical skills over the next 12 months and took Ireland’s first ever blind footballers to Romania in April 2017 to compete in the qualifiers.

He helped to develop the sport of blind football in Ireland and give blind and visually impaired people an opportunity to play a sport they may have never thought possible. He increased the fitness and confidence of several athletes and gave many others an opportunity to meet likeminded people and play at a recreational level. He also helped 6 players realise their dreams and play international football for their country. He helped to broaden the acceptance of disability sport and help create a more inclusive community.

 

Benny Grogan, Louth WATCH Club (Walking and Tandem Cycling for Health), Louth

Benny has been a dedicated volunteer for most of his life, particularly with his beloved St. Kevin’s GAA. However it is to the W.A.T.C.H. – Walking And Tandem Cycling for Health that he is most dedicated. He had volunteered for many years as a sighted pilot for blind cyclists under the support of the NCBI. When the NCBI reduced their services in his local area he stepped in and established the WATCH group in Louth so that blind cyclists could continue to enjoy the freedom that comes from being on the open road. The group travel all over the country and he transports the bikes, organises the cyclists and drives members from Louth to Dublin, Thurles, Crossmaglen and further afield.

Cycling when you are unable to see is nearly impossible, but WATCH gives members an experience of freedom and wellbeing that they would not otherwise experience. In addition the social and belonging aspects of being part of this group cannot be measured, and credit is due to him for initiating and developing the group to this level. Benny has often said that “The people who come out with us, the blind and the partially sighted, are our inspiration to do this”.

 

Kathryn Keogh, Special Olympics, Wexford

Kathryn started volunteering in 2003 and has undertaken over 40 different types of volunteer roles, including tutoring Special Olympics specific and Sports Ireland educational modules to volunteers and athletes, managing provincial sporting events and volunteering weekly in her local Special Olympics Club.

She has also been involved in mentoring athletes in the Athlete Leadership programme facilitating workshops which help empower athletes to develop skills in areas like public speaking. In addition, within her Clubs – Special Olympics Club Gorey Area and Wexford Special Olympics Club she has undertaken the Chairperson role and worked on a weekly basis supporting the smooth operation of a multisport club providing the opportunity for over 60 athletes to avail of sporting opportunities within the local community.

Her organisational and management skills make her stand out as a top class volunteer. With her passion for Special Olympics she ensures that each volunteer and athlete has a positive enjoyable experience and no matter whether an athlete finishes first or twenty first her attitude and positive reinforcement ensures that each feels that they are a winner. A box of roses was placed at Volunteer check in by Kathryn to welcome the volunteers to the event and the organisations staff received one after the event a gesture for all to feel appreciated and rewarded.