Sport NI launches its quest to celebrate the unsung heroes of sport through the annual SportMaker awards.

As nominations open, former Ireland hockey international Shirley McCay MBE highlights the important role coaches and volunteers have had on her career.

Ireland’s most capped sportsperson, Shirley played 316 times for Ireland, went to the Tokyo Olympics and is a World Cup silver medallist. While there have been many SportMakers in her career, Shirley pays tribute to her PE teacher Mary Swan and Hockey Ireland’s Mick McKinnon.

“There have been a couple of SportMakers who have been really influential for me. In my early career, my PE teacher Mary Swan… I went to Omagh Academy and she was hugely influential to me in terms of starting to play hockey, getting me to pursue my dreams and really making me want to be the best version of myself.

“In more recent times, in terms of my coaching career, Mick McKinnon has been really influential to me. He is the current Hockey Ireland pathway manager so in my role as pathway manager at Ulster Hockey I work really closely beside him and he has been really supportive.”

Sport NI’s SportMaker awards celebrate the unsung heroes of sport in Northern Ireland- the coaches, volunteers and officials who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make sport happen.

For Shirley, coaches and volunteers have an incredible impact on local sport,

“Coaches and volunteers are massive in sport. If you ask any sportsperson, there has been someone in their young lives that has volunteered to take a team away on a Saturday or on their evenings or days off and they have been hugely influential in promoting young people, supporting young athletes and getting them to where they want to be.”

Nominations for the SportMaker awards are now open. The awards give the sporting community the opportunity to showcase their achievements and give special thanks to coaches, officials and volunteers.

Sport NI Chair George Lucas said: “Our SportMaker Awards acknowledge the incredible work of our sporting community and highlight the outstanding people and projects that have made an impact over the last year.

“We know there are many unsung sporting heroes out there who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help enrich people’s lives through the power of sport.

“If you know a SportMaker, please nominate them today!”

Nominations for the SportMaker Awards are open now until 9 October, 2023, with 11 award categories recognising achievement at all levels of sports participation, from grassroots through to high performance.

Click here to nominate or go to