Outstanding Achievement Award Recipient for 2023 Announced.

The Federation of Irish Sport today recognised recipients of the 2023 Volunteers in Sports Awards, celebrating their dedication and giving freely of their time locally to make sport happen. Proudly supported by the National Network of 29 Local Sports Partnerships the committed volunteers from all across the country were honoured at an awards ceremony with special guest speaker Minister Thomas Byrne, Minster of State with responsibility for Sport and Physical Education presenting the 32 county awards.

In addition to the 32 county individuals being recognised, Eoin Kelly of Beech Hill Table Tennis Club in Co. Cork claimed the overall Outstanding Volunteer Award. His exceptional impact on the development of the sport of table tennis made him stand out as this year’s overall worthy winner. Eoin is a long standing member of Beech Hill Table Tennis Club in Cork city. His particular area of focus is on disability and in particular how to provide competition for people with disabilities.

The vital role of volunteers in advancing sports participation and community development cannot be underestimated or taken for granted. The economic significance of volunteering has an estimated value of €1.5 billion annually to the Irish economy. This figure underscores the immense social and economic benefits derived from the invaluable contributions of volunteers across the Irish sporting landscape.

Speaking at the awards, Minister Thomas Byrne noted; Volunteers are the backbone of Irish sport and I am delighted to see their vital contribution recognised and celebrated by these awards. As Sport Minister, I am acutely conscious of the challenges involved with volunteering and I recently welcomed the publication of the Sport Ireland Policy on Volunteering in Sport, which sets out an ambitious vision for a sports sector with the best volunteering culture in the world. The success of Irish sport would not be possible without the many thousands of volunteers that willingly dedicate their time every week, in every part of Ireland, to help others enjoy their sport and I want to thank every volunteer for their valuable contribution.

Federation CEO Mary O’Connor commented; “We are delighted to bring together the 2023 recipients of the Volunteers in Sport Awards from all over the country to receive their award from Minister Byrne today. Without this army of volunteers in clubs all around the country we would not have the level of grassroots participation that we do. It is important to take this time out and show our appreciation to the many unsung heroes of sport. We have heard today how sport can have such a meaningful and positive impact on our physical and mental health. And these volunteers are the conduit to providing that benefit.”

Commenting on the announcement of the list of recipients, Head of Sport, Louth LSP, Louth County Council and member of the judging panel Graham Russell stated, “The 2023 Volunteers in Sport Awards serve as a reminder of the power of volunteering in sport, celebrating individuals whose unwavering dedication enriches lives, strengthens communities, and encourages a culture of active living. It was hugely rewarding to hear the stories shared here today how sport is breaking barriers, significantly benefits both our physical and mental well-being and is a vehicle for driving inclusivity and participation for all ages, abilities and demographics.”

 Outstanding Achievement Award Winner

29 February 2024; Eoin Kelly of Beech Hill Table Tennis Club, Cork with his Outstanding Achievement Award during the Federation of Irish Sport Volunteers in Sport Awards at The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blanchardstown, Dublin.

Eoin Kelly is a long standing member of Beech Hill Table Tennis Club in Cork city. His particular area of focus is on disability and in particular how to provide competition for people with disabilities. When he quickly realised that while Special Olympics offered a path to disabled athletes it lacked competition. Eoin therefore established the first ever competitive league for Special Olympic athletes. Soon there were 50 clubs throughout Munster and Leinster in the league. Following on from this Eoin next set up mixed ability play in Beech Hill TTC where people with disabilities and mainstream players played together. During the Pandemic Covid halted play for many people with underlying health conditions. At Beech Hill, Eoin introduced weekly social Zoom play-from-home sessions with a coach and Special Olympic players. It was a tremendous success. Since then, Eoin has helped to grow Para table tennis in Munster, particularly for players with intellectual disability (ID). Table tennis players with ID play at Classification 11 in Paralympics. Class 11 players were not being classified in Ireland by Paralympics Ireland, so could not play in International competition. Eoin has been instrumental in changing this – introducing Classification for ID players in table tennis in Ireland. As Chairperson of Munster Table Tennis Association (mainstream and para players), Eoin has re-grown the sport in Waterford, Kerry, Tipperary, Clare, Limerick and Co. Cork. He is introducing the sport in more schools and where necessary has even sponsored tables.  Eoin is a  most deserving winner of our award for Cork and ultimately the Volunteers in Sport Outstanding Achievement Award for 2023.