NI honours list dominated by two sporting success stories

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has been awarded an MBE after his team's fantastic achievements over the past two years. Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has been awarded an MBE after his team's fantastic achievements over the past two years. Photo by William Cherry

Having led Northern Ireland to its first major finals since Mexico 1986, manager Michael O’Neill received an MBE for services to football and community in the Province.

Bethany Firth was another high profile MBE recipient in a New Year’s Honours list largely dominated by unsung locals who have dedicated their lives to making a difference in their communities.

Paralympic hero Bethany Firth arrives home to Belfast in September. Triple gold-winning paralympian Bethany has been awareded an MBE.
Picture by Arthur Allison

Paralympic hero Bethany Firth arrives home to Belfast in September. Triple gold-winning paralympian Bethany has been awareded an MBE. Picture by Arthur Allison

Northern Ireland’s appearance at the European Championships in France this summer proved to be one of the high points of the year and O’Neill’s part in taking the team there has been recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list.

The 47-year-old has been leading the Green and White Army for five years though his first World Cup qualifying campaign saw the team finishing with just one victory.

The Euros campaign marked an upturn in fortunes with the team securing qualifications in a group which included former winners Greece.

Off the back of the European Championship Northern Ireland have got off to a good start in their bid to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.

Of his MBE Michael O’Neill said: “It’s a fantastic honour and totally unexpected.

“I suppose in many ways I’m getting the recognition for what the team and the association have achieved, not only over the past year and the Euros but the past two, two and half years to where we are now, the completion of the stadium and the team continuing to do well.

“It’s recognition of all that and I’m the fortunate person who gets to pick up this award.”

He added: “My family are very proud. My oldest daughter thought it was possibly a prank to begin with when the letter arrived. In many ways it hasn’t really sunk in yet.”

Bethany Firth provided another of this summer’s sporting success stories, making history in Rio by winning three gold and one silver medal, as well as setting two world and one Paralympic record.

The Seaforde swimmer who is a member of Ards Swimming Club was awarded an MBE for services to swimming.

“I am delighted to receive such a great honour,” she said.

“I can’t wait to go to the palace to meet the Queen again.

“I’d like to thank everyone who has been involved in my career so far, they have all been a great support and without them I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have. So this award is for them as well - as were my medals this summer.

“This is a really great end to a great year.”