Mid-Ulster Ladies F.C. Chairperson, Elaine Junk, enjoyed a night to remember at the 2018 McDonald’s IFA Grassroots Awards ceremony in Belfast City Hall recently after picking up the People’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to Grassroots Football.
Elaine first got involved in football in the mid-1990s and is a past Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Women’s Football Association.
The mum-of-two was the first woman elected on to the Mid Ulster Football Association and continues to represent and advocate for women’s football on the Irish Football Association’s Council.
Elaine has been a strong advocate for female participation and continues to work towards developing the skills of many girls and women in Northern Ireland.
Eight awards were presented across a number of categories following a record-breaking year of nominations from football clubs and individuals across Northern Ireland.
In attendance were McDonald’s Football Ambassadors Pat Jennings and former Arsenal and England star, Martin Keown, alongside IFA Chief Executive, Patrick Nelson, all of whom gave high praise to the many football volunteers and award winners who were present at the event.
The awards, now in their 17th year recognise the hard work, commitment and professionalism of the many vital volunteers who make the grassroots game tick on a weekly basis.
“These awards are our way of saying thanks to the volunteers who make essential contributions to the many grassroots clubs across Northern Ireland,” said Pat Jennings, “Without their leadership and organisation, we wouldn’t have so many local leagues for children to enjoy and participate in.”
Football Restaurant of the Year
Winner - McDonald’s Sprucefield
McDonald’s Sprucefield was named Football Restaurant of the Year with its Community Partnership in association with Hillsborough Boys Football Club gaining national recognition.
The partnership has had notable successes including; delivering coaching accreditations to a number of hardworking grassroots volunteers, alongside the recent unveiling of the McDonald’s Sprucefield Indoor Arena by Northern Ireland Manager Michael O’Neill which will help to provide a first-class home for over 500 football players in the area.
The restaurant and club are focused on broadening participation in the local area having recently developed a girls only football programme, an emerging disability football group and encouraging the over 35’s to get back on the pitch through the organisation of local fun football games.
McDonalds Football Mum of the Year
Winner - Sandra Bownes
Sandra has served Antrim Rovers for 16 years, as a mum, a supporter, a volunteer, a committee member and this year as Chair of the club. In a time where Antrim Rovers is going through an array of changes, with the development of a new home ground, 20th anniversary celebrations, and the accolade of receiving Sports Club of the Year for the Borough, Sandra is playing a hugely significant role.
Winner - Neil Ardis
In recognising inclusivity, upholding the spirit of the game and creating a ‘football for all’ ethos, Neil is a worthy winner of the Inclusive award.
Hailing from Kilkeel, Co.Down, Neil started coaching 4 years ago with the Valley Rangers FC Under 7 Team. Having been immersed in the coaching side of the game, Neil then became Chairperson of Valley Rangers Youth where he excelled in providing administrative support and leadership to his club.
Notably, Neil, in association with Autism Support Kilkeel (ASK) founded an Autism football group last year. The group was set up to help children from the local area (and beyond) living with autism to become active and learn the skills of football.
Young Volunteer of the Year
Winner - Rebekah Irvine
Rebekah, a Kesh native caught the football bug early and started coaching seven years ago, mainly within the club’s mini soccer centre.
Rebekah later took on administrative roles accounting for player membership, player apparel, transportation and acting as the club’s parent liaison officer. In addition, Rebekah now runs the club’s McDonald’s Small sided teams, coordinates the clubs under 10,12 and 14’s and heads up the club’s fundraising function whilst sitting on the youth committee.
Accredited Club of the Year
Winner - Dungiven Celtic FC
Dungiven Celtic Football Club is an intermediate-level football club which was formed in 1968 and has consistently excelled in its work for youth football in the local area.
The club’s community work has also been exemplary having successfully managed to build significant participation in the local area.
Dungiven Celtic are one of the founding members of the Intermediate League and have created a strong youth structure which sees children of all ages attend small sided games at Ulster University.
The club has also worked hard administratively to achieve Club Mark Awards with the club made up from voluntary workers and led by the inspirational Terence McMacken and James Doran.
Dungiven Celtic have shown themselves to be a club which places community and family at its centre allowing families and friends to mix in a safe and positive environment.
Volunteer of the Year
Winner - Phil McKinley
Phil McKinney had an illustrious career in local football and joined Lurgan Town as a player in 1996. Phil played with the club for 12 years and is the record goal scorer for Lurgan Town at senior level.
During Phil’s playing career, he went into coaching in 2003, initially helping with senior setup. In 2006 he started coaching the under 6 team, and this was where Phil’s journey as a coach really started.
In addition to coaching the Under 6 Boys’ team and Girls’ teams from Under 9 to Under 15, Phil also finds time to run the club’s Soccerbility programme, an initiative aimed at providing fun football for children with learning and physical disabilities.
Phil shows incredible enthusiasm and passion for grassroots football and in addition to his on-field activity, Phil also acts as Club Secretary for Lurgan Town.
Wes Gregg Coach of the Year
Winner - Corey Wilson
Corey has been coaching with Belfast based, Braniel FC from the age of 17.
Having coached at the club for more than 5 years, since initially helping with the 2004 team, Corey then stepped up to become head coach of the 2010 team just over 3 years ago.
In 2018, Corey was voted on to the Braniel Club committee taking up the role as Club Secretary. Corey’s has coaching has caught the eye within his locality and beyond. A bright future awaits.