Making a real difference to the lives of others was a central theme at the GPA’s second annual Gaelic Heritage Awards gala event held in New York last week.
A star-studded line-up of current and former GAA players gathered along with sponsors and guests to pay tribute to two incredible Irish success stories, Niall O’Dowd and Ciaran Murray.
O’Dowd, who was honoured for his numerous achievements on both sides of the Atlantic, spoke of his great admiration for the work of the Gaelic Players Association but none more so that the Association’s decision to give back to the community in New York’s Breezy Point earlier this year.
He hailed the pioneering spirit of the GPA in forging a new identity for Gaelic games and Gaelic players in the US and paid special tribute to the work of the players’ body in assisting players with their off-field lives at home while also making a significant contribution to Irish society.
Murray, who received the Spirit of Ireland Award, honoring his exceptional achievements as Chief Executive of successful Irish global research company ICON, spoke of the importance of cherishing our Irish identity in a global environment.
ICON supports the GPA through a life sciences scholarship program for players and Murray explained how both organizations shared the values of leadership, excellence and a commitment to developing people.
GPA Chief Executive Dessie Farrell paid personal tributes to both honorees and told how O’Dowd had first welcomed the GPA to the US and had helped chart a course for the organization in America.
He also referenced a number of recent personal stories, highlighting how the work of the GPA can make a difference, such as support for critical bypass heart surgery for Meath footballer Shane McAnarney.
The annual GPA event in NY is designed to celebrate and acknowledge the deep historical and cultural ties between the two countries, recognizing a shared ancestry of which Ireland’s unique Gaelic sporting heritage is an intrinsic part.
Other speakers on the night included Consul General Noel Kilkenny, Ireland Funds CEO and President Kieran McLoughlin and master of ceremonies and dinner chairman Ciaran Staunton.
Special tribute was also paid to the players present on the night, including footballer of the year Michael Darragh MacAuley of Dublin and Clare teenager Tony Kelly, who was a real hit on the night after scooping the hurler of the year accolade this year at just 19 years of age.
The GPA also marked the event by launching its ‘Sponsor a Scholar Campaign’ aimed at generating further support for the players’ education programme.
Educational support is a key part of the GPA’s Player Development Programme. Since its inception in 2010, the GPA has distributed over 1,900 scholarships to county players both at undergraduate and postgraduate level along with support for up-skilling and further education programmes.
Through the Sponsor a Scholar scheme, donors commit $3,000 to sponsor an individual player for a year or commit to multi-annual support. Sponsors can choose a county to which they wish to donate.
The GPA also made two $10,000 donations on the night to the New York GAA squad development program and to the Breezy Point relief effort respectively.
Here’s the video used to introduce IrishCentral’s founder Niall O’Dowd, who was an honoree on the night: