Sean Byrne

Bill O’Herlihy interviews Ferrybank AC’s long jump and sprint star Kelly Proper at Saturday’s Park Hotel Waterford Sports Star Awards in Dungarvan. | Photo: Sean Byrne

The thing that struck me most about both Saturday’s Park Hotel Supreme Sports Star banquet, and the WLRfm/Granville Hotel GAA Awards the night before, was the innate modesty of the recipients, who, without exception, came over as completely unaffected by their varying measures of success and, dare one utter the word, fame. There are so many shameless self-promoters out there that it’s comforting to know homespun humility still has its place.

Pro-rata Waterford has produced an outstanding stream of sporting talent down the years, and across a vast variety of disciplines at that. Friday’s awards recognised, as they said on the tin, excellence in our national games, with the 11 nominees, headed by overall winner John Mullane, a credit to the association which special guest Christy Cooney will soon have the duty of leading in what are sure to be testing times, not least in his native Cork.

In Dungarvan the following evening, the calibre of those who came forward to meet and be saluted by guest anchorman Bill O’Herlihy – a down-to-earth gent himself, who afterwards obliged one and all with that timeless commodity, time – was striking.

Visiting what he calls “John Treacy country”, O’Herlihy described the Villierstown legend, now CEO of the Irish Sports Council, as one of his all-time heroes. “John has no agenda except the betterment of sport… he’s not like some of the other guys at the top of the sport in Ireland. He’s one of the greats in my estimation.” Who the other guys might be, Bill tantalisingly left us guessing.

Treacy, who, I see, has added an eponymous 10k race and 5k fun run this May to Waterford’s sporting calendar (see front) has always been the epitome of unpretentious achievement; someone who reached heady heights but whose feet always remained rooted on terra firma.

The current generation would seem to be following in those understated footsteps and are all the more admirable for it. From up-and-coming national champions like athletes Kelly Proper and Niamh Whelan, swimmer Joe Murphy, and golfer Seamus Power, to the consistency of showjumper Francis Connors, to the overseas success of overall winner John O’Shea (who scooped his second ‘supreme’ Park prize; there’s definitely something in the water across in Ferrybank), the standard of those who reluctantly entered the spotlight was befitting of a national, never mind local stage. Any number of the runners-up (see pages 14-15) would make worthy ambassadors for Waterford sport, and the city and county in general.

What was even more marked was the average age profile of those recognised. So young, so much accomplished already; and each of them bashful, not a blowhard to be heard. The future certainly looks bright for those flying the Portláirge flag in arenas at home and abroad.

An appreciative and knowledgeable Bill, as self-deprecating as they come – a trait in common with those who’ve most to boast about – urged the high achievers of Waterford, ‘the Gentle County’, to “push yourselves a lot more as you’ve so much to be proud of.”

True, and maybe they should. Yet John Treacy for example wasn’t the pushy sort. Still he got his rewards, first as an acclaimed athlete, and latterly an administrator. O’Herlihy is, as he’s always stressed, a red-blooded Rebel, but not quite typical of the species, perhaps. Those who wonder how Cork GAA got itself into such seriously sorry straits might respectfully suggest you can sometimes push things too far.

As the American Hall of Fame former basketball player and coach John Wooden said: “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”