East Antrim sports personalities offer hope to community at start of the New Year

For almost two years, many people’s lives have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the implications it has had on day-to-day activities.

As 2021 draws to a close and we welcome in 2022, sporting stars from across east Antrim and Newtownabbey have shared some positivity with the Times as they detail their aspirations for the year ahead.

Northern Ireland star Jonny Evans had a year to remember with Leicester City, as the East Midlands side upset the odds to defeat Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley in May.

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Speaking to this newspaper, the decorated defender said: “Having played almost all of the season without the supporters in the stadiums, it made for a really emotional day to be able to have my family come to watch me play again. The only downside was not having my children there to watch me at Wembley, due to the restrictions at the time.

Jonny Evans. Presseye/William Cherry

“The memories and experience still give me goosebumps and being able to share that victory with a fellow Northern Irish man in charge of the team makes it all the sweeter.”

Looking ahead to 2022, the former Manchester United and West Brom player stated: “I want to be fit and healthy and reach the landmark of 100 caps for Northern Ireland. I have 93 at the moment and provided I stay injury free, then I can achieve that target with the year to come.

“A successful campaign in the Nations League and more silverware with Leicester are also targets I aspire to achieve.”

Sending a message to the passionate members of the Green and White Army, who returned to Windsor Park in their numbers at the tail end of the World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign, Evans added: “To the best fans in the world, you were incredible as always.

Corry Evans. Presseye/William Cherry

“During a difficult time, both on and off the pitch, you still came to show your love and support for our team. I will never forget the atmosphere against current European champions Italy at Windsor. Those last 10 minutes, the crowd roared us home and I remember standing on the pitch looking at the fans singing, knowing there was no way Italy were going to score.”

Echoing those sentiments, Jonny’s brother Corry, explained: “In what has been a difficult time for everyone during the pandemic, it was great to have the GAWA back roaring us on at Windsor. The noise and atmosphere you create is unmatchable and fills me with immense pride every time I step out onto the pitch to represent my country. Thank you.”

Detailing his highlight from 2021 and what he hopes to achieve in 2022, Corry, who moved to Sunderland in the summer after an eight-year spell at Blackburn Rovers, said: “My highlight is signing for Sunderland and being named captain, which was a huge honour to be given that role of such a massive club with a great fan base. In 2022 I want to help get Sunderland promoted to the Championship.”

Ballyclare Comrades manager Paul Harbinson is hopeful that the community bonds formed over the last two years can be strengthened in 2022.

Paul Harbinson. (Pic by Ballyclare Comrades).

He said: “2021 was obviously a bleak year for everyone, so from a football perspective, just getting back to playing games and training together as a club has been huge for us.

“The impact of lockdowns on physical and mental wellbeing has been noticeable and I think we’re really starting to see the positives of community and togetherness again.

“I hope to see that community aspect grow even further as we welcome Carnmoney Ladies into the Comrades family from the start of 2022. I have aspirations that the council and community can get behind this ever growing venture at Dixon Park and help us to provide the right level of support that sport can offer to all of the young people in this area.”

In what was a successful season of racing in Northern Ireland for motoryclist Alastair Seeley, securing the Ulster Superbike and Supersport titles in 2021, the Carrick rider is hopeful of making a return to the British Superbike setup.

Alastair Seeley (IFS Yamaha) won the Enkalon Trophy in 2021. (Pic Pacemaker Press).

The record North West 200 winner is also hoping to secure a ride at the famous North Coast circuit this year.

Speaking to the Times, the ‘Wee Wizard’ said: “I’ve nothing organised for next season, as yet, but there are talks ongoing and hopefully I can get something sorted. I’m hoping to know more this month.

“I enjoyed my time back home, securing the Ulster Superbikes title on the IFS Yamaha, before winning the Ulster Supersport on the Life Pass Yamaha. It cut down on travelling and I got to ride at circuits I grew up competing on, including Bishopscourt and Kirkistown.

“I’d love to ride at the North West 200 this year and give it another crack. I’d be happy enough to do pre-season testing beforehand, if I can’t get a move to the BSB, to get my race craft and sharpness up again.

“After what has been a tough time for many people, I’d like to thank my sponsors, my family, my friends, my fiancee and everyone else who has supported me and wish everyone a safe and happy 2022.”

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