It was a special moment for nine Irish golfers this weekend as they were unveiled as the Special Olympics athletes who will be representing Ireland at the World Summer Games in Los Angeles in July.
Christy O’Connor Jnr and three-time Olympian and former 5,000m World Champion, Senator Eamonn Coghlan joined the team at the launch, where it was also announced that Gala, one of Ireland’s foremost convenience Groups, has joined Special Olympics as one of Team Ireland’s Official Sponsors.
Hailing from across Ireland, the Team Ireland golfing squad features Margaret Carr from Sligo; Rosemary O’Reilly from Meath; Trudy Hyland from Cork, Paul Kirrane from Ennis, Oliver Doherty from Buncrana, Leo Brien from Rathdrum, Co Wicklow and from the North, Jill Connery from Armagh.
Ennis’s Patrick Rutherford and Ursula McDonnell from Belfast will also join the team as playing partners, and they will be paired with athletes in the alternative shot team play event.
There’s high hopes for the team, not least due to the soaring interest in golf, thanks to the continuing success of Irish golfers on the world stage.
“Irish golfers are now rated as some of the best in the world, enjoying a global audience on the American and European tour. However, this July, all eyes will be on Los Angeles when our inspirational athletes from Team Ireland will be teeing off to achieve personal bests.
“To represent Ireland is a phenomenal achievement and I would like to wish all of the athletes the very best of luck at the World Games,” said O’Connor Jnr, a long-time supporter and patron of Special Olympics.
Gala, the convenience retailer with 200 stores in Ireland, joined Special Olympics Ireland CEO, Matt English, at the launch to announce the Group’s six figure commitment in helping Irish athletes travel to and compete at the Games.
Matt English, Chief Executive, Special Olympics Ireland adds: “Without the support of our sponsors, it would be financially impossible to fund 88 Irish athletes’ participation in the World Summer Games in LA. This is our first initiative with Gala and we’re thrilled with the partnership, as there’s a natural synergy with local retailers championing their local athletes.”
Gala’s six figure sponsorship marks a considerable milestone in the fundraising efforts of Special Olympics Ireland, who require €440,000 to cover the cost of sending Team Ireland to the World Games.
Commenting on why the Group chose to support the Special Olympics in 2015, Gary Desmond, CEO of Gala says: “We are an Irish Retail Group, and our stores and their communities are central to our success. Special Olympics is an outstanding organisation that has supported thousands of athletes in our stores’ communities over the years, and the Gala Group wanted to collectively help the athletes from Team Ireland create special moments in Los Angeles.
“Being in a position to assist the athletes in achieving their dreams and experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is something that all of our stores committed to and we’re looking forward to an exciting summer, wishing Team Ireland every success at the Games.”
All of Gala’s stores will be decked out to cheer on Team Ireland at the end of July and exclusive updates from the Games will be delivered via Gala’s social media channels as part of the convenience group’s #GalaSpecialMoment campaign.
From 23rd July – August 2nd, 88 athletes from across the country will be representing Ireland at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games. They will be supported by a 40 strong management team, 200 Irish volunteers, as well as hundreds of family members and supporters who will cheer the athletes on as they compete in Los Angeles.
Team Ireland will join 7,000 Special Olympics athletes from 177 countries for the Games which promise to be one of the sporting highlights of this year. Team Ireland will compete in 12 sports: aquatics, athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, equestrian, football (5 & 11-a-side), golf, gymnastics, kayaking and table tennis.
Paul Kirrane, Co. Clare
Paul Kirrane, aged 29 from Ennis Co. Clare. Paul has been playing golf for four years. He is currently training with his local club Ennis Golf Club.
Trudy Hyland, Cork
Trudy Hyland, aged 40, from Lough Road in Cork. Trudy is a member of the Cork Island Golf Club and has been playing golf for over twelve years. She also plays bocce.
Patrick Rutherford, Co. Clare
72 year old, Patrick Rutherford, has 25 years’ gold experience. He also enjoys triathlons and athletics, and is a golf coach at his local club. He’s a grandfather, with six grandchildren.
Margaret Carr, Sligo
Margaret Carr from Calry in Sligo, is aged 54. Margaret is also a member of Rosspoint Athletics Club, and has been playing golf for over 15 years. She has won gold in previous games.
Oliver Doherty, Donegal
38 year old Oliver Doherty from Buncrana, Co. Donegal will be competing in his third games in LA. Playing golf for almost 30 years, Oliver won gold in Dublin in 2003. Oliver also likes to play bowls, darts and pool.
Rosemary O’Reilly, Meath
29 year old Rosemary O’Reilly from Co. Meath has a long association with Special Olympics Ireland and has been playing golf for many years. Rosemary participated in the National Games in Limerick last year.
Leo O’Brien, Wicklow
19 year old Leo O’Brien from Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, has been an athlete with Special Olympics for 12 years. Leo is incredibly proud to be representing Ireland at the World Games. A keen golfer, Leo also plays basketball and competes in aquatics. Leo says the best thing about being an athlete with Special Olympics is that it has helped him develop his social skills.
Jill Connery, Co. Armagh
Jill Connery, aged 29 from Scarva Co. Armagh. Jill has been playing golf for over 10 years and currently trains with Birdies Golf Club in Silverwood. In her spare time she also like to horse ride – but chose golf to compete in with Special Olympics.
Ursula McDonnell, Co.Antrim
Ursula McDonnell, is 70 years young and is a playing partner with athlete Jill Connery. She plays at Fortwilliam Golf Club and The Eagles Special Olympics Club. She has been golfing for over 7 years – her and Jill meet as often as possible to play together