KEIGHLEY Cougars are today delighted by the news that Chairman Mick O’Neill has been awarded an MBE in HM Queen Elizabeth II New Year Honours list.
Mick has been awarded an MBE for his services to the sport of Rugby League Football, the community in Keighley, and to Charity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the originators of the ‘Cougarmania’ era, along with Mike Smith, both the club and the town would go to new heights during their stewardship throughout the nineties following the rebranding to Cougars.
They would set about transforming the club and the town, re-opening the condemned main stand, building a new bar and hospitality suite, rebuilding Cougar Park from the ground up, whilst building a team on the field that would win the 1993 Third Division title and the 1995 Second Division and Premiership double.
During this time, the club began a pioneering community cohesion programme, taking 1,000 local school children down to Wembley to watch Great Britain and had government ministers coming up to visit the Cougar Classroom.
This aided crowd numbers and spirit within the town as crowds rose from the hundreds to four, five, six thousand as Cougarmania hit the town and gave the people of Keighley something to swing behind. It was a groundbreaking example of what a sports club with real meaning to the local community can do.
Following the near demise of the club in 2018, Mick returned along with Mike Smith, son Ryan O’Neill, and son-in-law Kaue Garcia, to save the club from extinction in January 2019.
Since his return to Cougar Park, Mick and the new board of directors have overseen several initiatives that have both raised money for charity and impacted the community within the town of Keighley.
2019 saw the club make history with the first ever ‘Gay Pride’ event in the sport when the West Wales Raiders visited in July on the back of a successful cancer awareness game against Oldham in May of that year.
This year has seen us all face numerous challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, however Mick has led the club from the front throughout since March.
At the start of pandemic, Cougars donated thousands of facemasks and other vital PPE equipment to the Airedale NHS Trust, the Sue Ryder Manorlands Hospice, and several care homes throughout the local area, with Mick personally delivering the equipment.
On the back of this, the club’s aim to help charity and the community throughout the difficult times would carry on through the launch and sales of a special edition NHS shirt and branded facemasks with the aim to donate all profits raised to Airedale Hospital and Manorlands.
The sales of the shirts and masks would raise a total of £6,982 with the money being split evenly, two sums of £3,446, between both Airedale Hospital and the Manorlands hospice.
Mick would personally hand over the cheques to both trusts and both his, and the clubs, services to charity throughout the pandemic has since continued.
October saw the club welcome It’s Worth Talking About as its first official mental health partner, a cause close to Mick’s heart having worked as Mental Health nurse in New Zealand during his youth, and the club step in to help with the free school meals initiative within the town.
November and December have since brought the launch of Christmas themed facemasks with has once again raised £427 for the Manorlands hospice in the town.
On behalf of us all here at the Keighley Cougars, we’d like to both thank Mick for his service to both the club and the town and offer our congratulations on this well-deserved honour.
Congratulations to Michael O’Neill MBE.
By Joshua Chapman