POPULAR Keighley Cougars chairman Mick O'Neill has finally picked up his MBE, only 18 months late.

He was awarded it at the end of 2020, as part of the New Year's Honours List, but was unable to collect it due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But yesterday he was at Buckingham Palace to receive the honour, alongside his family, and some Cougars paraphernalia.

O'Neill was awarded the MBE for his services to rugby league, 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 hit new heights during their stewardship throughout the nineties following the rebranding to Cougars.

They 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, while building a team on the field that won 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.

Following the near demise of the club in 2018, O'Neill returned along with Mike Smith, son Ryan, and son-in-law Kaue Garcia, to save the club from extinction in January 2019.

Since his return to Cougar Park, O'Neill 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.

2020 saw us all face numerous challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, however O'Neill led from the front during that awful period.

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 O'Neill personally delivering the equipment.

On the back of this, the club’s aim to help charity and the community throughout the difficult times carried on through the launch and sales of a special edition NHS shirt and branded face masks, with the aim to donate all profits raised to Airedale Hospital and Manorlands.

The sales of the shirts and masks raised a total of £6,982, with the money being split evenly, two sums of £3,446, between both Airedale Hospital and the Manorlands hospice.

O'Neill personally handed over the cheques to both trusts and both his, and the club's, services to charity throughout the pandemic continued.

October 2020 saw the club welcome It’s Worth Talking About as its first official mental health partner, a cause close to O'Neill's heart, having worked as a mental health nurse in New Zealand during his youth, and the club stepped in to help with the free school meals initiative within the town.

November and December 2020 brought the launch of Christmas themed facemasks with has once again raised £427 for the Manorlands hospice in the town, with O'Neill awarded his MBE at the end of the year.