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SONI’s Real Rugby Heroes Announced: Three domestic rugby volunteers scoop £1,000 prizes for their clubs


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SONI (System Operator for Northern Ireland) runs Northern Ireland’s electricity grid. SONI Ulster Rugby’s annual awards programme, Real Rugby Heroes, which recognises volunteers who make an invaluable contribution across community rugby, has announced this year’s three winners:

Administrative Volunteer (anyone who volunteers primarily to help run the club e.g. finance, catering, treasurer) – Beverley Esler, school teacher and Honorary Secretary at PSNI RFC

Beverley has been an active member of the club but for approximately 20 years.  She has been instrumental in organising Club fundraisers, Club dinners and ensuring continued funds from sponsors. She has become well known in rugby circles, often representing the clubs at events in other clubs and at the Ulster Branch. Beverley’s fulfilment of these responsibilities ensures the smooth running of the club.

Youth & Mini Rugby Volunteer (anyone who volunteers within youth and mini rugby including youth disability teams) – Robert Dillon, Youth Rugby Convenor from Strabane RFC

Robert Dillon has been volunteering with the club for 24 years. Robert has played (and still does) for the club’s senior teams for the best part of 30 years. For 20 of those years he was also the club secretary. To say that he is a stalwart of the club simply wouldn’t do him justice. Robert has been at the fore front of everything the club has done, from captaining the playing team to organising social trips and club events. As Youth Convenor, Robert helped Strabane RFC pick up an Ulster Carpets Club Youth award earlier this year, in recognition for the club having the most improved ranking in the youth leagues.

Women & Girls Rugby Volunteer (anyone who volunteers within women and girls rugby across senior, youth and mini rugby) – Katie Speers, Coach from Ballymoney RFC

Katie, a previous SONI Community Champion finalist in 2016, has been a vital member of the Ballymoney RFC for the last 16 years, and undertook the setting up and implementing of girls youth rugby in Ballymoney. She has taken on all roles in relation to, the setting up of this new venture, fixtures, coaching, sponsorship, fundraising and welfare for the girls. Katie is also head of first aid for the club and organises the annual carol service which is attended by the local community.

The Real Rugby Heroes Awards seeks out volunteers who make an invaluable contribution to the game at a grassroots level, enriching communities across Ulster. Each of the winners has won an incredible £1,000 for their club.

Jo Aston, Managing Director of SONI, said: “Rugby across Ulster plays an important part in communities, particularly at a grassroots level and especially during these unprecedented times. The clubs provide people with an opportunity not only to enjoy the game, but also enrich family and community life. Behind the scenes, there are so many selfless people who give up their time to ensure the smooth running of their clubs. Each year we meet incredible volunteers who do so much. Congratulations to all this year’s winners.”

The award scheme was launched by SONI in 2015 as part of its domestic sponsorship of the SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership and has grown in popularity each year with more clubs across Ulster putting forward their best volunteers for recognition.

Barry Willis, Rugby Operations Manager at Ulster Rugby said: “Volunteers drive rugby in Ulster, without their dedication and hard work, the game simply does not happen.  The SONI Real Rugby Heroes programme, allows Ulster Rugby to recognise these efforts and shine a light on individuals who continue to make a difference every day. Many congratulations to the very deserving winners, across the three categories, who have been nominated and recognised by their peers for their outstanding contributions. Our thanks go to SONI, for their support in recognising the efforts of our winners, and the thousands of rugby volunteers who contribute to the game in Ulster.”

SONI operates and plans the electricity grid in Northern Ireland.  This includes maximising electricity supply generated through renewable energy sources and managing the interconnection with neighbouring grids and the wholesale electricity market. SONI’s role is to send power from where it is generated to where it is needed, efficiently and at the most economic price possible, today, tomorrow and for decades to come.

For more information on SONI visit www.soni.ltd.uk or follow on twitter @soni_ltd

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