New Year Honours 2017: MBE awards for Firth and O'Neill

Michael O'Neill celebrates Northern Ireland's second goal in the 2-0 win over Ukraine at the Euro 2016 finals
Michael O'Neill celebrates Northern Ireland's second goal in the 2-0 win over Ukraine at the Euro 2016 finals

Paralympic gold medallist Bethany Firth and Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill have become MBEs in the New Year Honours.

Co Down swimmer Firth won three goal medals and a silver at the Paralympic Games in Rio in September.

O'Neill guided Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals in France, where they progressed to the knock-out stage.

They are among nine people from Northern Ireland recognised for their contribution to sport in the honours.

There are also MBEs for John Allen (athletics in NI), Kathleen McBride (sport and the community in Coleraine) and Robert Northridge (rowing and community relations in NI).

Services to sport

Dromore Athletic Club coach Michael McGreevy is awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to sport and the community in Dromore.

Crewe United chairman Tom McKenna (football and cross-community reconciliation), Terence Munro (sculling and rowing in Belfast) also receive BEMs along with Maureen Sherman (services to young people and sport).

Firth, 20, won 100m backstroke gold for Ireland in the 2012 London Paralympics before switching allegiance to Great Britain.

The Seaforde woman retained the 100m backstroke title in Rio and also won gold in the 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley, while securing 100m breaststroke silver.

It left Firth as Britain's most decorated medallist at the Rio Games.

A delighted Bethany Firth after winning 100m backstroke gold at the Paralympic Games in Rio
A delighted Bethany Firth after winning 100m backstroke gold at the Paralympic Games in Rio

"I am delighted to receive such a great honour," she said.

"I can't wait to go to the palace to meet the Queen again. I have already met her once at the palace in October.

"I'd like to thank everyone who has been involved in my career so far.

"Nelson Lindsay my coach at Ards Swimming Club, the Sports Institute Northern Ireland (SINI), Team GB, Disability Sport Northern Ireland and of course my family - they have all been a great support and without them I wouldn't have been able to achieve what I have.

"So this award is for them as well - as were my medals this summer. This is a really great end to a great year."

O'Neill played for Northern Ireland before going on to become a manager with Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers.

Long wait ended

He was appointed Northern Ireland boss in late 2011 and guided the team to their first major tournament in 30 years with qualification to the Euro 2016 finals.

Northern Ireland's 2-0 win over Ukraine helped them to progress from the group stage before being knocked out of the tournament by Wales.

The team lies second in their 2018 World Cup qualifying group behind champions Germany.

"It's a fantastic honour and totally unexpected to be honest," said O'Neill.

"It's brilliant. The whole year has been fabulous. It will probably only be when I am not in the job that I will be able to look back and realise the extent of what we all achieved.

"This award comes at the end of 2016 but it's actually a great way to start 2017 - that will give me inspiration and motivation to continue to do everything possible to try to qualify for the 2018 World Cup."

Top Stories