Farewell to Stephen – great sports editor and journalist
AFTER almost 30 years working for The Echo, sports editor Stephen Leonard wrote his final piece for the paper last week.
The Tallaght native is taking a short career break in order to spend more time with his family, and he completed his final shift last Friday.
Stephen joined The Echo as a freelance reporter in September 1993, when he was a young 18-year-old journalist eager to get his first break.
“I had been out of school a year at that stage, and I was in college,” he recalled. “The first piece I did was a film review for ‘The Fugitive’.
“It was a great feeling the first time I saw my byline in the paper, I felt like I’d made it. And I was really proud to show my parents that I had my name in print.”
Since then, Stephen’s byline has been printed thousands of times in the pages of The Echo, particularly after he was promoted to sports editor in 1996 – the role he remained in until last week.
“I loved soccer, but I got a love for minority sports, things like basketball, athletics and hockey, and I got to build up a relationship with the clubs and athletes and learn about their sport,” he explained.
“I took pride in the fact that we would be covering a lot of sports and athletes that weren’t getting covered on a national level. We stood out on that front, and I think will continue to.”
Another point of pride during Stephen’s tenure was the development of the Echo Sports Awards, which began as the Echo Amateur Sports Awards in 2009 and grew year-on-year up to the last ceremony in 2019.
“When I think about the Sports Awards, the South Dublin County Sports Partnership were hugely involved in it,” said Stephen.
“Thos McDermott from the Partnership was on board from day one. It was great to have that support.
“We wanted to recognise all the athletes, teams and clubs that wouldn’t get that recognition on a national platform.
“We were filling a room with young athletes and teams and got to underline the work they did throughout the year.
“We got to follow those athletes and clubs from small competitions as they rose through the ranks, and they were putting in just as much effort as professional footballers or rugby players would.”
Some of the athletes whose ascents he has particularly enjoyed following are Olympians Jack Woolley, Brendan Hyland, and Jenny Egan-Simmons, and Irish sprinting champion Rhasidat Adeleke.
“It’s been a pleasure tracking the rise of so many young athletes and seeing them rocket to the heights that they’ve reached,” added Stephen.
Clubs-wise, Stephen said seeing Ballyboden St Enda’s GAA Club becoming All-Ireland senior football club champions and Peamount United FC reaching the national leagues were highlights.
As for how he feels about the people he’s worked with over the years, both in The Echo and local sports teams, Stephen said: “I have so many good memories.
“All of the people I’ve worked with down through the years, all the colleagues I’ve had and friends I’ve made . . . it was a great experience working in The Echo.
“I want to wish all the athletes, clubs and teams I’ve worked with all the best and thank them for a really great almost-30-years of reporting for The Echo.
“And I want to thank [Echo editor] Dave Kennedy for giving me that opportunity to work for the paper almost 30 years ago.”
Stephen is looking forward to spending more time with his wife Simona, and their children, Lorenzo, Lavinia, Lochlainn and Caolán, and the family’s newest addition, their pet tabby cat Willow.
However, Stephen’s passion for local sport remains unchanged, as he added: “I’ll keep following the local athletes and sports clubs and keep an eye on how they’re getting on.”