AMBITIOUS wheelchair basketball ace Conn Nagle and rising young golf star Katie Poots are the latest recipients of Make It Happen awards, worth £3000, from the Mary Peters Trust.
The funding will assist the pair with training and development costs in a new dimension to the cash awards, amounting to several million pounds, handed down by the Trust in the five decades since its foundation by Lady Mary after her 1972 Pentathlon Olympic gold at Munich.
From a top class field of candidates both were judged by the awards panel to meet the funding criteria of showing the most potential for progress, given access to specialist skills and knowledge to quite literally Make It Happen in their sporting careers.
Conn (22), from Belfast, is currently based in Sheffield, studying at Sheffield University and is on course to complete his final year studies this year.
Beyond his studies, Conn aims to progress his development within the sport of Wheelchair Basketball by playing abroad in Europe from September 2023, gaining life skills and experiences both on and off the court.
Accepting the award, Conn said: “This funding will go towards the costs of my move, such as flights, accommodation, player membership/affiliation fees, language lessons and any visa/residency requirements.
“As a young athlete, this support is greatly appreciated, impactful and will, quite literally, will help greatly to Make it Happen for me in my sport, especially when taking into account the logistical and practical challenges which can come from making a move to another country.”
NI Wheelchair Basketball liaison officer, Danny Cooper, Wheelchair Basketball Performance Officer, added: “Conn has developed through the Northern Ireland Wheelchair Basketball pathway, playing for the Knights Wheelchair Basketball club in Belfast and engaging with various Northern Ireland underage groups over the years. Having represented Great Britain in underage competitions over recent years, and being selected for and representing NI in the Commonwealth Games in 2022, Conn is a talented young player who is now looking to progress his game and sporting career further, with the overall aim of pushing into senior Great Britain squads in future seasons. By playing abroad in one of Europe’s major Wheelchair Basketball leagues from September 2023 onwards, this will develop Conn’s game further and assist his growth as an athlete. This award will undoubtably support Conn’s transition abroad, and towards the next stage of his playing career.”
Plus four handicapper Katie (17), from Belfast, is NI’s leading U18 Girls player, following an extremely successful 2022. Katie won the Irish Girls Open Championship, the Fairhaven Trophy in England and the Connacht Senior Women’s Championship. She also achieved podium finishes in the Irish Girls Close Championship and Leinster Women’s Championship. A 14th place finish at the St. Rule Trophy was also a great indicator of Katie’s potential as this was an elite women’s event.
A member at Knock and Royal County Down, a sign of her consistency was winning the Golf Ireland Women’s Order of Merit despite still being an U17 player. Success in golf is Katie’s long-term goal and this has been displayed by her desire to challenge herself in the NCAA as she will begin college in the US later this year. Her primary goal before then will be to continue to boost her position on the world rankings through playing regularly in international competition.
Last year was her first proper year of getting to compete abroad after the covid travel restrictions in place in previous years and Katie will use the Trust funding primarily for expert coaching to help her push forward.
Katie explained: “I can now arrange additional coaching with Donal Scott at Carton House. He specialises in putting and it’s an area of my game that I’ve been working on.
“I would like to improve my short game and wedge play within 100 yards. Additional lessons and coaching with Johnny Foster would help me to become more accurate and would improve my game further.
“I believe that the psychology side of sport is vital. It helps with confidence, strategies and helps me to become a stronger person. Additional sessions with Dr Lee-Ann Sharp at Jordanstown University will be of great benefit to my wellbeing and game, thanks to this funding.
“It will also enable me to play additional competitions, like the Annika Invitational tournament in Sweden in June.
“This year, my aims are to play further afield from home. It is important for me to play in bigger competitions against the best girls/women in Europe. My current World Ranking is 531st and playing abroad in bigger competitions will help me to improve on this. This will help to raise my sporting profile and possibly help me in selection for teams in the future. This bursary will definitely help to make that happen.”
Congratulating both athletes, Lady Mary added: “We are now able to provide additional cash awards to assist the best of the best of our emerging young talent to hopefully Make It Happen for them as the Trust has done for so many before them. It’s the vision I had when the Trust was set up and we continue to raise the bar in terms of our ideals.”