Turning Laois into a winning county by developing a confidence and a sense in identity was the message from GAA President Liam O’Neill as he accepted the Leinster Express People of the Year Award.
Mr O’Neill received a standing ovation after being presented with the 2012 award by Mr Pat Somers, Leinster Express Editor at the Laois Community and Voluntary Awards.
“It is particularly apt this year that the Person of the Award this Year is going to a man who has been involved in community all his life at local and county level.
“Now at national and international level he is representing Co Laois as President of one of the greatest sporting and voluntary orgnisations in the world. It is a clear example to everybody of how Laois people can suceed,” said Mr Somers
Mr O’Neil said he proud to be Person of the Year which he said started at home in the “wonderful community of Trumera”
“That somebody from a tiny community could become President of the GAA is probably appropriate to mention. A tiny community like Trumera can bat above its weight and we do. We have a school, community hall and above all the hurling club. My journey through the GAA is sustained by what I learned in Trumera,” he said.
Mr O’NeilI said he owed a huge debt of gratitude to GAA.
“It is one of the many wonderful community organisations. I have never claimed that it is the best but it is amongst the best,” he said.
A former official with Laois Community Games, Mr O’Neill praised all voluntary efforts.
“Every community or voluntary organisation, as far as I am concerned is of equal value. Everyone who works voluntarily deserves huge recognition,” he said.
The President said it is often put to him that Laois is not the most sucessful county in the GAA.
“I have often been asked would I like to be from Kilkenny which win so much. My answer is always that I can’t think of anything better in the world to be than to be a Laois man. “
But he believes that the strong pride and sense of place he has needs to be nurtured.
“If we can get a sense of ‘Laoisness’ I think this county will be unstoppable. It is the only thing we lack. We have wonderful scenery, we are located in the best part of the country, we have wonderful people.
“Sometimes in sport we achieve almost the ultimate, we won the Leinster football title, we didn’t win the All-Ireland, it is a lack of confidence. If we get a pride in being from Laois we will push on, not just in sport but in business,” he said.
He said Laois fortunes would rise in hurling despite the recent negative publicity. While pleased by the county football achievements he looked forward to March 17 next.
“Portlaoise are leading the charge as our leading club and it would be a huge honour to meet them on the platform on St Patrick’s Day and we can do that if we believe in ourselves,” he said.
“I love Laois, I always have. I am proud to be a Laois man and am particularly proud to get this award and very grateful for it and I will be doing my bit to represent Laios wherever I can,” concluded the GAA president.