A capacity crowd of 500 people packed the ballroom of Breaffy House Resort on Friday last for a golden night in every sense of the word.
The 50th Western People Mayo Sports Stars Awards in association with Ballina Beverages saw no fewer than 21 new inductees to the gallery of the county’s finest sportspeople, a list of hundreds that stretches all the way back to 1970.
Originally the brainchild of former Western People editor Terry Reilly, the awards scheme has grown to become the foremost accolade in Mayo sport. And in a unique link between then and now, two of those eight original Mayo Sports Stars were present for this year’s presentations too.
Opening the awards ceremony, current editor James Laffey paid tribute to the latest group of inductees and also acknowledged the role of the Western People staff members, both past and present, who had done so much to ensure the Mayo Sports Stars became the “huge gala event it is today”. In particular, he acknowledged the support of Ballina Beverages who have been sponsoring the event for the last decade. Mr Laffey also spoke of the “inclusivity” of the awards ceremony, which has seen so many sporting disciplines – everything from clay pigeon shooting and hammer throwing – recognised during the last half-century.
This year saw another new discipline — the little known sport of Ultimate Frisbee — was included in the roll of honour.
Ballina Beverages general manager John McGowan spoke of his company’s delight at being involved in a sports awards ceremony that brought together people of all generations and sporting backgrounds. He said Ballina Beverages was tremendously proud to be a sponsor of a wide variety of sports in Co Mayo and spoke of the importance of sport for young people.
Frank Greally from Ballyhaunis and Patricia Reid (nee Flatley) from Claremorris were joint winners of the first Athletics award and a half-century later, Frank was on the podium once again when inducted into the Mayo Sports Stars Hall of Fame. Patricia, meanwhile, accompanied special guest Ronan O’Gara into the room to a standing ovation.
O’Gara, an Ireland and Munster rugby legend who has strong Mayo connections, recalled his childhood holidays in Ballina at the Bohernasup home of his mum Joan, during a fascinating interview in the company of MC Liam Horan.
Reliving a long and storied playing career, France-based O’Gara also provided a detailed insight into his coaching philosophies that have tempted some of the top clubs in world rugby to acquire his services.
He expressed a desire to one day become the coach of Ireland but explained it would only happen if fate and ability decreed as he was not one to actively canvass for work opportunities.
The Cork man, who had several family members in attendance, said the Posthumous awards presented to the families of Garda John McCallion and Garda Martin Mitchell, great Mayo sportspeople who passed away in 2019 aged only 48 and 50 respective, should serve as a reminder of the things that are most important in life – family and good health.
Hollie Mitchell, daughter of Martin, paid an emotional tribute to her late father, thanking the community of Ballina and beyond for the support her family had received since his passing before graciously congratulating the entire cast of 2019 Mayo Sports Stars recipients.
See this week’s edition of the Western People for a full report and pictures of the night.