In 18 months unlike any other, where sports across the world have slowly found their feet after the Covid-19 outbreak, one thing that has remained the same has been the rise of women’s sport in Northern Ireland.
t was during the pandemic that Northern Ireland footballers shattered their glass ceiling and qualified for their first major tournament, the Armagh ladies continued their dominance on the Ulster GAA stage and a youngster from The 16-year-old from Belfast has become the youngest cricketer, male or female, to mark an ODI century.
Now, to honor and celebrate our incredible women in sport, the Belfast Telegraph is today launching the Game Changers Awards in partnership with Electric Ireland.
There are two prizes to be won in the elite and grassroots sections.
The elite category is open to teams or individuals who have competed at county, national or international level for Northern Ireland, Team Ireland or Team GB and NI.
Nominees must have had a significant impact since July 2020 and have also helped raise the profile of their particular sport through their efforts while acting as excellent ambassador(s).
The Northern Ireland women’s football team have obviously had a sensational 18 months reaching their first major tournament this summer, the European Championship final, after qualifying second in their group.
At the Gaelic Games, the women’s team from Armagh stood out from the rest by retaining their Ulster title, beating Donegal in a thrilling final at Healy Park, while the Antrim ladies made mighty progress reaching an All Ireland decider – losing to Wicklow in the youth football final.
Cricketer Amy Hunter is set to be a major player in this category after becoming the youngest person to score an ODI international century when she scored 121 runs in Ireland’s win over Zimbabwe in October at the 16 years old only.
Or how about sensational MMA fighter Leah McCourt, who defeated Janay Harding and Jessica Borga to set up what should be the biggest fight in Irish MMA history when she takes on Dublin’s Sinead Kavanagh on next month ?
While McCourt is a dominant force in MMA, the 29-year-old is also an inspiration, spending quality time with young fans and raising money for charities such as Christian Aid during lockdown.
On the team side, there was more success for the Irish women’s hockey team, led by Katie Mullan of Ballymoney, who qualified for back-to-back World Cups by securing a place in the final of this year.
In golf, rising star Beth Coulter was a shining light on the local scene as Annabel Wilson represented Europe in the Curtis Cup: a tremendous feat.
2021 was the year of the Olympic and Paralympic Games where athletes from Northern Ireland dedicated five years of training to reach the pinnacle of their sport in Tokyo.
It may have been disappointing that the Olympics and Paralympics had to go ahead without spectators due to the pandemic, but it was still a remarkable feat to qualify and take part in the greatest spectacle in the world.
Ards swimmer Bethany Firth returned with two golds and two silvers to add to her Paralympic record over the years.
Awards, however, are not just for elite athletes/teams and it is important that those who contribute to grassroots women’s sport are also recognised.
The number of women or girls taking part in sport in Northern Ireland has steadily increased every year since 2011 and this is due to the tireless work of volunteers, coaches and mentors encouraging the next generation of sporting heroes, or those who simply give to women and girls the opportunity to play and play sports.
We are looking for someone within a club, or a club itself, who has dedicated countless hours to their sport by encouraging participation, organizing training sessions or developing individuals into athletes who will compete at the highest level – someone or a group who deserves great recognition for their work.
Paul Ferguson, Sports Director of the Belfast Telegraph, said: “We are proud to partner with Electric Ireland to honour, celebrate, defend and recognize the women and girls who have excelled or made a major contribution to sport in Northern Ireland. .
Anne Smyth, sponsorship specialist at Electric Ireland, said: “We are delighted to partner with Belfast Telegraph to organize a special Game Changers Award.
“The award is an opportunity to celebrate the groundbreaking work of individuals both on and off the pitch, recognizing the positive impact they have had on their local communities and the wider sporting landscape and helping to support the advancement of women’s sport.”
To nominate an individual or team for either award and find more details, including the closing date, please log on to: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/gamechanger/