A coach who runs a cross-community team in an interface area in north Belfast is the first winner of a Nationwide Mutual Respect Award this year.
In 2021 the Irish FA and Nationwide Building Society joined forces to create the award, which aims to help make grassroots football in Northern Ireland more respectful and positive.
The first of four awards in 2022 has been presented to Declan McDaid, coach of Limestone United.
Declan has spent the past 11 years bringing young people from all backgrounds into the one football team to promote good relations and tackle youth violence through sport across the interface.
He has used education around anti-sectarianism and anti-racism grassroots interventions which has developed two teams of young people who promote respect, tolerance and friendship through football.
The coach has connected the players with their community and the project is held up as a model of good practice by community, statutory and voluntary groups. He has helped to create new leaders among young people who experienced youth violence and are now building peace and respect on and off the pitch.
His nomination for the award also states: “Declan has worked tirelessly as a volunteer all this time and is a true grassroots community champion in an area of high deprivation.
“Interface violence has been suppressed and so many young people are now involved in playing football together rather than fighting. The badge of the club was designed by local Protestant and Catholic schoolchildren after Declan took the Limestone United project into local schools at the Limestone Road interface.”
The Nationwide Mutual Respect Award recognises outstanding contributions, achievements and behaviour in grassroots football across the country by young players under 18, coaches, teams/clubs, parents and referees.
The winners of the award receive a trophy, and the accolade of being a Nationwide Mutual Respect Award winner, and they also win tickets to an upcoming Northern Ireland game at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
Nominations are now open for two further awards and anyone over 18 can nominate their ‘grassroots respect hero’.
To nominate a player under the age of 18, a coach, team/club, parent or referee who has made an outstanding contribution to the game or their community go to: www.irishfa.com/mutualrespectawards
The nomination window for the Q2 and Q3 awards closes on 30 September, with the winners notified in October.
Image: Declan McDaid (left) receives his Nationwide Mutual Respect Award from Malcolm Roberts, a Regional Grassroots Development Officer with the Irish FA Foundation.