The Distinguished Graduate of the Year Award is sponsored by First Trust Bank and recognises graduates for outstanding achievement in their chosen field.
Michael graduated from Ulster University with an Advanced Diploma in Management Practice in 2005, an MSc in Communication, Advertising and Public Relations in 2001 and a BA Hons Sport and Leisure Studies in 1999.
Michael’s career with the IFA began as a placement student during his undergraduate degree in sport and leisure studies at Ulster University and his career has gone from strength to strength. He was one of the youngest ever European A Licence Coaches and has been a member of Irish FA Strategic Leadership Team since 2004.
Michael is an inspirational leader who has transformed Northern Irish Football. He created and led the international award winning “Football For All” campaign which was chosen by both UEFA and the Special EU Programmes Body to represent Northern Ireland at major Corporate Social Responsibility and Peace conferences in Sarajevo and Brussels.
Today, Michael’s work includes leading the Irish FA Foundation charity, the IFA’s women’s elite programme; increasing women’s participation; disability, grassroots, youth and schools development; refereeing; mental health, employability, Homeless Football and futsal. He has secured millions of EU funding and earlier in 2018 was part of the team that secured an additional £350,000 extension from the Department of Education to develop football in schools across the country. He led the development of the ten year “Let Them Play” youth football strategy for Northern Ireland that has seen participation in football in the Province double from 35,000 in 2014 to more than 70,000 in 2018.
“It is an honour to receive this award from Ulster University and I would like to dedicate it to the NI Fans, all the Irish FA staff and volunteers from across the business who have made football for all a success. The team and I are passionate about working with partners to serve the community through football and this award is a reflection of the success of the team. I am very proud to receive the Distinguished Graduate Award and will do my best to be a positive ambassador for the university.”
Eddie Friel, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, Ulster University, said:
“We are delighted to award Michael with our Distinguished Graduate Award. Michael is an excellent ambassador for Ulster University; his drive and ambition have allowed him to excel in his chosen field. He has devised, inspired and led award winning projects and strategies to tackle sectarianism in the Northern Ireland game, using football as a hook for mental health, education and employability; and to increase participation for all. His success serves as an inspiration to Ulster University students and alumni.”
Congratulating Michael, Charlotte Maguire, Branch Manager at First Trust Bank who has supported the Award since 2001 said;
“Michael’s exemplary leadership skills and focus on diversity and inclusion distinguish him as a Northern Ireland trailblazer. He is a beacon of inspiration not just in the world of sport, but across the wider business community. We are proud to present him with the Distinguished Graduate Award in recognition of his transformational leadership style and ability to inspire change.”
Each year a bespoke trophy is designed and produced by an Ulster graduate from the Belfast School of Art. This year’s designer is Ellen Nesbitt, who graduated with a BA Hons Ceramics, Jewellery and Silversmithing at the summer graduations in 2018.