North Belfast Harriers (NBH) have scooped the coveted Club of the Year Award from Athletics Northern Ireland. Club Chairperson Matt Shields was honoured with the Services to Coaching Award. They accepted their awards at a special presentation at Athletics House in Belfast on 19 October.
Athletics Northern Ireland President John Glover said:
‘North Belfast Harriers have taken massive strides in the past year in increasing participation in athletics through the Waterworks Park Run, and developing their junior programmes. The Harriers provide impressive services for everyone from beginners to elites, and have had an immense impact in their local community.’
In the past year NBH started the popular Park Run in the Waterworks, the first event of its kind in Northern Ireland. NBH also became the first club in Northern Ireland to achieve Belfast City Council’s Club Mark. This included a rigorous auditing process that ensured all coaches have been trained in child protection and first aid, and have had AccessNI checks.
NBH also became an Athletics Northern Ireland/McCain Network Host Club. This means that NBH coaches, volunteers and athletes assist other local clubs in areas such as fundamentals and good practice. This includes sharing resources, venues, and training sessions several times per month, as well as sharing coaching and development information. In addition, NBH supported the Belfast City Marathon, providing pace makers for 3 hours, 3.15, 3.30, 3.45 and 4 hours.
NBH has also worked hard to improve its services for junior athletes. The club secured access for juniors at the outstanding facilities at the Boys Model School and the University of Ulster in Jordanstown and started free interclub competitions for primary and secondary school children.
NBH shares its clubhouse on Old Park Terrace with other local groups, such as a senior citizens table tennis team and Irish dancers. In October, NBH achieved registered charity status, which allows it to manage its clubhouse and other resources more effectively.
As a result of these efforts membership has increased from 140 to 170, and about 20 athletes (unattached or from other clubs) regularly attend NBH sessions.
Further Achievements During the Year Included:
- Men’s team prizes at the Northern Ireland half-marathon championship, Titanic 10k, Lisburn 10k, Bangor 10k, and Albertville 5 miler
- Women’s team prizes at the Lisburn 10 and Bangor 10k; and the mixed team prize at the very competitive Irish Runner 5 miler in Dublin
- Gladys Ganiel O’Neill: Olympic B standard in the Marathon and currently first in the Irish rankings (2.41.22), won the Northern Ireland cross country and 5000m championships, won silver at the Irish half marathon championships and bronze at the Irish inter-club cross country championships
- Breege Connolly: Currently fourth in the Irish marathon rankings (2.52.54)
- Lisa Sturgeon and Tommy Hughes (his time of 2.33.16 making him one of the fastest over-50 runners in the world) were the first finishers from Northern Ireland in the Belfast City Marathon
- Stephen Scullion was 10th in the British inter-county cross country championships and won six popular local races
- Marty Rea won the Cardiff Ultrarace 50 and was selected to run for Ireland at the World Ultra Running championship
- Cathy McCourt was named Northern Ireland Masters Athletics Association Athlete of the Year and won the Northern Ireland Senior 10k road championship and the British Masters 5k road championship
- Racewalker Emma Doherty was fourth in the Irish schools, first in Northern Ireland and second in the British 10k road championships
- Conor Curran won the Northern Ireland Masters 5000m and was second in the Irish Masters 5000m
Matt Shields Honoured With Services to Coaching Award
NBH Chairperson Matt Shields added the Services to Coaching Award to the Belfast City Council Coach of the Year Award that he won earlier this year. The text of Matt’s nomination, submitted by the club, read:
Matt Shields is an exceptional coach. He exudes a positive, calm & methodical approach to the running careers of a multitude.
Under Matt’s leadership in 2011, athletes have achieved county, national & international titles. However, Matt has as much time for an Olympic hopeful as for a young boy/girl coming to the club for the first time.
As coach, his knowledge of running & willingness to share it is legendary. His dedication to the sport & NBH is unquestioned. Matt is always open to new ideas, techniques & approaches listening to the runner, encouraging them to learn about running & to train smart.
Matt’s primary concern is seeing people realise their potential. This is why he led on establishing & continues to ensure the ongoing success & development of The Park Run.
Matt never seeks publicity/praise & he will never promote.
We think he deserves it!
Recognition of Matt’s services to coaching by NI Athletics would be an affirmation of the esteem in which he is held at the highest level of the sport here.
Good athletes need talent but they also need good coaches.
Forget Alberto Salazar. In Matt Shields we have one of the best.
(Image from the Awards Ceremony: UK Athletics President Lynn Davies (1964 Gold Medallist in the Long Jump), Coach Jimmy Nolan, Coach and Chairperson Matt Shields, Athletics NI President John Glover)