Ronan O’Neill (GMIT Castlebar) Wins 2017 Student Sport Ireland Leadership Award.

Left to right: Nigel Jennings,  Sports Officer, GMIT Castlebar; Ronan O'Neill, GMIT Castlebar student, winner of the 2017 SSI Leadership Award; Michael Gill, Head of College GMIT Castlebar.
Left to right: Nigel Jennings, Sports Officer, GMIT Castlebar; Ronan O’Neill, GMIT Castlebar student, winner of the 2017 SSI Leadership Award; Michael Gill, Head of College GMIT Castlebar.

Every year Student Sport Ireland rewards the hard work of a student in the 3rd level sporting sector whether in action with their college or institute or behind the scenes organising things. This year’s winner is a leader who has done everything during his time in Galway Mayo IT (Castlebar Campus) as Ronan O’Neill proved himself in a multitude of roles.

Sports Officers regularly encounter students with exceptional sporting ability that often help with clubs and societies but Ronan smashed all expectations when it came to his administrative prowess. As a highly qualified kayaker he immediately took on a committee role on entering college in first year, by second year he had risen to club captain and having revamped the fortunes of that club, (and instigated a sustainable system of qualifying instructors from within who would in turn instruct beginners under his supervision), stabilised their finances, overhauled their operating systems and radically improved their stock of equipment, he passed on the club in great condition and embraced the role Clubs and Societies officer in his third year.

He brought such a professional approach to this role, that he has changed it immeasurably: introducing a new clubs and societies e-mail system; instigating a novel schools liaison initiative that simultaneously allows his Outdoor Education classmates fulfil continuous assessment requirements, a local Primary school to introduce adventure sports to 150 students and Clubs and Societies access to new ways to raise much needed funds He also established a multi-sport intra college competition that was hugely successful and has left the template for this to become an annual event, which like other things will see his work have an influence in the college long after he has moved on.

Ronan also had the great idea to amalgamate the GMIT surf club and kayaking club together and they now operate as a water sports club with a lot of shared equipment.

While doing all this he was the driving force behind the kayak clubs successful hosting of the 2016 Kayak Intervarsities, one of the biggest participation events in 3rd level sport a hugely complicated competition with 5 events over three days in different locations. Ronan coordinated all aspects of GMIT Mayo’s hosting of the event from accommodation to competition rules, managing a team of volunteers to liaising with other colleges, agreeing access issues with county council to supervising safety teams, negotiating with sponsors to management of results, booking and working with hotels and live music acts to coordinating the logistics of moving people, safety crews and equipment between the various venues. No event can run on the actions of one man and it’s true to say that he had the help of a wonderful committee and crew of volunteers, but for it to work as it did it needed one strong organised central figure and Ronan played that role to perfection.

What makes Ronan unique is that it’s not just in his chosen sport that he contributes in, and when GMIT Mayo took on the hosting of the LGFA O’Connor cup weekend, (Gaelic Football being a sport he would have absolutely no experience in), he was the mainstay of the organising committee. His intervarsity experience was willingly shared and the compilation of the excellent commemorative programme was his undertaking from start to print.

Indeed, his contribution on all fronts is well recognised on the campus and he was presented with a “Special Contribution to College Life Award” at the annual college ball which is basically a recognition of someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty – much like this award is designed to do.
On top of this Ronan took on a role of Student rep with Student Sport Ireland on the Training & Development committee and played an integral part in setting up Network 2016 in Westport, which was widely applauded for its innovative approach as one of the best network events to date.

GMIT’s (Castlebar) Sports Officer Nigel Jennings said that “Ronan is the personification of the famous G.B. Shaw quote “You look at things and ask why, but I dream of things that never were and ask why not” This is what sets Ronan apart from the many student I have encountered, not content with being told how things worked, he looked, examined and said how things could be improved and worked tirelessly to instigate that change. I thoroughly believe he is a deserving winner of this award which is recognition of the great work he has done to date on the road to what is without doubt going to be an exceptional career in Sport”