Sligo RFCâ€™s annual dinner was held in the Sligo Park Hotel on Sunday last, and attracted a capacity attendance. Special guest speaker was Munster and Ireland legend, Anthony Foley, who is retiring from the game on May 24th. Among those present were the President of the Connacht Branch, Michael Cunningham [Westport RFC] and his wife, Lily, the Mayor of Sligo, Colr. Jonathan McGoldrick, Minister Jimmy Devins, Eamonn Scanlon T.D. Senator Geraldine Feeney, Colr. Deirdre Healy-McGowan, Very Reverent Dean Stuart McGee and his wife, Eunice, and Sligoâ€™s most senior member, George Hamlet, club President, 1969-1972.
Also present was the Chairman of the Sligo Co. GAA Board, John Murphy and John Kent from the Sligo senior management team. AIB, who generously sponsored the event, were represented by Regional Manager, Peter Greene and Branch Manager, Seamus Cronin.
Many current players, who commenced their rugby careers in the clubâ€™s juvenile section and who now play else where were also in attendance. Included in this group were Niall Oâ€™Hara [Buccaneers], Karl Gilligan [DLSP], Mark Butler [UL-Bohemians], and Sean Henry, Cathal Sheridan and Ross Butler, who recently won All-Ireland U-20 Cup medals with UL-Bohs.
The three speakers on the evening were the Mayor, club President, Tom Gilligan and Anthony Foley.
In his excellent address, the Mayor, Jonathan McGoldrick spoke eloquently about the clubâ€™s proud history and its huge impact locally. He praised the club for its initiative in planning state of the art facilities at its new 18.7 acre site at Cloverhill and congratulated Aaron Spring on his selection for the Irish Youths team.
The President, Tom Gilligan, welcomed everyone, and in the course of his speech paid tribute to all coaches in the club and all workers. In his address ,he paid a special tribute to his three immediate predecessors as President, Michael Oâ€™Hehir, Des Butler and Michael Storey and thanked them for their support during his Presidency. He also warmly praised Justin Harte for his excellent organisation of the clubâ€™s alcohol-free teenage discos, and also commended Chief Steward, Niall Draper and House Chairman, John Kane, as well as Jimmy Staunton, Clare Storey and Rory Raftery for their very prudent handling of the clubâ€™s finances, and the Sponsorship Committee Joint chairmen, Jonathan Hill and Michael Oâ€™Hehir. The President also complimented Jonathan hill on designing, editing and taking the photographs for the clubâ€™s very popular website.
The clubâ€™s main sponsors, Martin Reilly Motors, Miximo and the Glasshouse Hotel were warmly praised by the President for their generosity, as were the supporting sponsors and the advertisers in the Annual Yearbook. All present were effusive in their praise of Sligo Park Hotel for the beautiful meal served, and the President expressed his gratitude to the Organising Sub-Committee of Billy Leahy, Mary Oâ€™Hehir, Clare Storey, Orla Gilligan and Niall Draper. The President wished a speedy return to full health to Brian Mullan, who was ill recently.
He congratulated the U-12, U-13 and U-14 teams on their Connacht Cup victories, and paid tribute to the coaches involved, John Kane, Michael Oâ€™Hehir and John Davey. He paid a special tribute to Aaron Spring, who during the season was capped for Ireland at Youth level.
Anthony Foley on only his second visit to Sligo captivated everyone with his very amusing anecdotes, and the measure of his popularity can be gauged from the large numbers requesting autographs and photographs. The victorious Connacht league U-18 winners were presented with their medals, while Aaron Spring presented his Ireland jersey to Tom Gilligan, and this will be displayed in the Clubhouse.
The M.C. for the evening was Damian Heaslip, a former club captain, 1st team coach and President, and uncle of current Ireland No. 8, Jamie Heaslip, and he again did an excellent job.
The highlight of the evening was the awards presentation. Senator Geraldine Feeney presented the Frank Feeney Award for Clubman of the Year to Jonathan Hill. Anthony Foley presented the Senior Player of the Year to Ronan Gillespie, and the Youth Player of the Year award to Aaron Spring. He also presented awards to Rory Kerins and Aaron Spring, as mementos of their victory in the Inter-provincial Youth championship with Connacht. The Hall of Fame award was won by former Connacht senior inter-provincial, Charlie Culhane.
The President presented Anthony Foley with a beautiful painting, entitled Breakfast at Foleyâ€™s by U-8 coach and internationally acclaimed artist, Annie West. The painting was much appreciated by Anthony, and was very favourably commented on by everyone.
The club President, Tom Gilligan, who will be stepping down at the AGM after two years in office, was himself the recipient of an award from the Committee and the members. This presentation was made by the clubâ€™s Hon. Secretary, Michael Storey, who paid him glowing tributes, and he also presented Tomâ€™s wife, Maresa, with a bouquet of flowers.