THIRD generation Irishman John O'Donnell of Sale Sharks has been named Community Player of the Season by the Aviva Premiership.
The honour celebrates players' involvement with their club's community foundations and their work with a variety of charities.
O'Donnell started volunteering at Wigan Youth Zone when he first signed with Sale in 2014, and has been supporting them ever since.
He helps engage children from deprived backgrounds in a wide range of activities, to develop them as individuals, but to also give them a strong network of support.
The Wigan-born winger, whose grandparents hail from Galway and Sligo, was taken aback by the award, which was first handed out to Bob Casey in 2012.
“It was a bit of a shock really,” O'Donnell told The Irish Post. “I didn't expect it at all. It was nice to receive it, but I didn't do any of the community work with this award in mind.”
With London Irish stalwart Casey having enjoyed a very successful career off the pitch since retiring, O'Donnell hopes he can follow in the same footsteps by remaining in the game for as long as possible.
“I'd be privileged to,” he said. “You grow up playing the sport and then get to do it for a living, but when that finishes most just want to stay in the game.
“It's all I'm used to, so it would amazing to be able to stay in the game for the rest of my life.”
Debbie Bullock, Aviva's Community Investment Manager, was one of the judges and said: "One of the key things about John's work was that it was a long-term commitment, three days a week over an extended period of time.
"That's an awful lot of time over and above his regular training commitments and he was very impassioned about the work because it is in his home area.”
O'Donnell is also involved with the IRFU's 7s side and heads over to UCD for regular weekend training camps.