By Ciaran O’Donnell
Different aspects have come and gone in the world of Donegal sport since 1976. Yet, the Donegal Sports Star Awards, unique to the county for more than four decades, remains, without doubt, the biggest night in the sporting calendar locally.
Back in the early days, Donegal had much to celebrate.
And 42 years on, the celebration that brings those at the top of their respective disciplines together for one night only each year, is a must-go-to for all the county’s sporting fraternity.
Those who have achieved and succeeded in 2018 will be honoured at the function in the Mount Errigal Hotel, Letterkenny on Friday, January 25th, 2019.
Grace Boyle has been front and centre of a number of groups and organisations down the years. The Ramelton native was elected as the first woman chairperson of the Donegal Sports Star Award Committee back in June, taking up the reins held for the previous six years by Neil Martin – the Finn Valley stalwart who earlier in the year was elected as chair of High Performance at Athletics Ireland.
The current chair of the Donegal Hospice, Grace brings a wealth of experience to her role with the Donegal Sports Stars. She is a former Donegal GAA County Board Treasurer and was at the helm of the Donegal North West 10K Committee for many years.
With just over two months until the big night, she is appealing for all clubs and organisations to have their nominations submitted before the deadline of Friday, November 23rd.
“We are getting the word out through as many channels as we can regarding the closing date for nominations,” she says.
Grace first got involved with the Donegal Sports Star Awards some years ago after an approach by committee secretary, Paul McDaid, when former Fianna Fail TD, Niall Blaney, was chair.
“There was still a number of the founding members involved back then, too,” she recalls.
The Donegal Sports Star Awards has stood the test of time extremely well and has evolved to become as successful as many of the big names it honours.
“With the backing of Donegal County Council and the involvement of the schools, it has just taken off over the last few years. It’s a success even before you start,” Grace comments.
The organising committee meet shortly after the awards’ night to reflect on how the event went, and to identify features that can be improved upon.
“We leave it for the summer and come back at it in September. From then on it’s fairly busy until we get the night over at the end of January. This is the crucial time for us now as an organising committee. The more nominations we can get in and sort in early December, rather than leaving it to Christmas, the better. In the past we would have been meeting the week after Christmas trying to sort nominations. So this year we are appealing for nominations to be sent in by the end of the week,” she says.
“We did the schools’ nominations earlier in the year – it was good to have those in and sorted first. That leaves us clear to focus on the adults and other awards.”
From Grace’s perspective, there’s no big secret to the success of the annual Donegal Sports Star Awards function. There’s no rocket science involved.
“It’s just extremely well run,” she offers.
“What I enjoy about the night is that the children are along with the adults and you get a certain excitement with that.
“The enthusiasm of the children is quite infectious and I think the mix of the children and the adults works out really well.
“And everyone gets enjoyment during the Special Olympics part of the night – it’s great to be there to see the sense of delight, joy, happiness and excitement it brings to the winners when they go up to be presented with their award. I think all that combines to make it a night to remember, too.”
The special guest for what will be the 43rd staging of the annual showpiece will not be announced until closer to the event and the new chairperson wasn’t going to be drawn as to who he or she is.
“We will have a press conference in January and all will be announced then,” she says.
A lot of head scratching and much deliberation will take place over the coming weeks as the committee nail down the winners of the 40 awards. Deciding who gets what can be quite easy to work out in some categories, and much more difficult in others.
“We do have a set criteria which we follow to the letter,” she explains.
“If you are into sport at all, the awards night is the place to be. I think everyone who goes along enjoys it.”
Only three people in the history of the Donegal Sports Star Awards have won the overall category more than once – rower, Sinead Jennings from Letterkenny (2001, 2006 and 2016), Lifford high jumper, Sharon Foley (1989 and 1983) and Buncrana weightlifter, Billy Bourne (1990 and 1991).
The truly marvellous concept that is the Donegal Sports Star Awards, hatched by a group of visionary individuals, is one thing more that sets the county apart from the rest.
Different. For sure.
By Ciaran O’Donnell