A tribute to Eric Cunningham

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It is with profound sadness that Ulster Hockey shares the news of the passing of Eric Cunningham.  A genuine legend of Ulster Hockey and South Antrim Hockey Club.

Eric gave selfless commitment to hockey in Ulster and Ireland, and to South Antrim Hockey Club for well over 60 years, as a player, umpire, administrator and volunteer.

Eric played for Beechlawn Hockey Club in the 1960s, before it merged with South Antrim Hockey Club in Lisburn in 1972. From then until now he was the mainstay of South Antrim hockey Club, playing competitively well into his 80s and then continuing to umpire on a regular basis for the Club’s junior teams.

He turned up without fail to watch all his club’s teams in action and must be commended for remaining loyal to South Antrim for over 50 years. He has been Club Chairman and held the Club in a financially sound position as their Club Treasurer.

It was because of his love for figures that Eric was such a tremendous and dedicated volunteer for Ulster Hockey. Eric was a meticulous accountant, who worked tirelessly for hockey in Ulster. He never entered the computer age but he continued to do the accounts by hand and with great precision and his hand-written ledgers are a thing of beauty and legend.

Eric was still a regular presence in the Ulster Hockey office as recently as March this year and provided great guidance to the staff over many years.  Eric looked after every penny of Ulster Hockey’s finances with great attention to detail and was never afraid to challenge performance which he felt did not meet his high standards.  He did so, however, with the greatest of respect, warmth and humour.

He was Treasurer of Ulster Hockey’s Men’s Branch from 2000 – 2009 and was responsible for securing great sponsorship deals for Ulster Hockey through his work as a Financial Director for Guinness, Belfast. When the Men’s and Ladies branches in Ulster Hockey amalgamated in 2009, Eric, continuing his volunteer role, became Treasurer of the Ulster Hockey Union. Eric spent between 8-10 hours every week in the Ulster Hockey Office as Treasure rat a time when this was an incredibly time consuming and complicated exercise for a large and thriving yet volunteer led governing body. It was estimated that he spent up to 25 hours a week at home working on the Union’s accounts. His presentations to the Finance Committee of the Board, of which he was an integral member and to the Management Board were always meticulously produced and showed exemplary foresight and the current strong financial position of Ulster Hockey can be attributed to Eric’s contribution.

Eric Cunningham at Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards 2019

When there was a high-profile fixture or tournament all being staged in Ulster, Eric would be found manning the gate, often single-handed, greeting spectators, collecting admission charges and sacrificing his enjoyment of the game so that others were able to enjoy it. He would be there at least an hour before anyone else, with his table, programmes, posters and snack consisting always of pork pies. Eric turned up in all kinds of weather and only missed an occasional fixture through ill-health or family commitments.

As a person, Eric has a superb sense of humour and always had time to help develop those around him. He was a great advisor and mentor to Ulster Hockey staff and volunteers alike and was always available to contribute to the sport he loved.

The Ulster Men’s Hockey Branch was honoured to have him as their President in 2001-2002. Ulster Hockey owes Eric a tremendous debt of gratitude Eric and witness his dedication and service to hockey throughout Ulster and Ireland for so many years.

Eric was recognised for his contribution to hockey and to sport in Ulster on several occasions.  In addition to being honoured as Ulster President in 2001/02, he was awarded the Carson Clarke Lifetime Achievement for Men’s Hockey, and in 2019 was awarded the WJ Paddy Paterson Services to Sport Award in NI at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.  On each occasion, he received the recognition with great humility, almost embarrassed to have been recognised for fulfilling his selfless passions of hockey and accounts!

Eric’s passing leaves a massive gap in the Ulster Hockey family, and he meant so much to the staff, Board and volunteers.

We have lost a legend, a mentor, a leader, a meticulous administrator, a gentleman but most of all, a dear friend.

The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Ulster Hockey go to Eric’s daughters Louise and Anna and all those close to Eric at South Antrim Hockey Club.

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