The Irish Times / Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year will be unveiled in Dublin City Centre today at one of the best and most celebratory events of the year.
14 monthly winners, including double winners from June and September, will be applauded to the stage to collect their monthly awards before one is named as first among equals to be named as the overall winner.
To make a judgement from the quality of sporting performers that will be in the room must be an almost impossible task.
Each year the quality of achievement climbs higher and higher as Irish women competing on the national and the international stage collect the highest of honours and inspire us all with the standard of their achievement.
As we end the decade it is worth taking a breath to look back on how far the respect awarded to Women in sport has come. There were always a small few who carried the flag. from Kay Mills, Rosemary Smith and Mary Peters to Sonia O’Sullivan, Olive Loughnane, Derval O’Rourke, Mary O’Connor and Rena Buckley.
They were celebrated but there were long gaps between the days when Women’s sport would feature on the back pages or in our collective consciousness. Sport was considered to be a Man’s world. As one spiky journalist put it at a 20X20 debate earlier this year, if you want to see higher, stronger, faster, you’d be going to watch a Men’s game.
But over the past number of years, and with acceleration in the most recent, the dynamic of better has become more relevant. Better stories, better achievement, a better acceptance of the fact that the effort which goes into being the best in your chosen field is blind to gender.
It was a Women’s team that played the first Test cricket match on these shores. It was a Women’s rugby team that became the first Irish team to beat New Zealand in a full senior international. It was a women’s Hockey team that became the first of any sport or any gender to make it to a World Cup Final.
Perhaps it is because they have toiled away from the spotlight for longer that the stars of Women’s sport are such a generally damned likeable bunch. Everyone that is there today will appreciate the recognition and warmly celebrate each of their colleagues.
It really is one of the best days of the year. They would never say they are a better version of their male counterparts. All they would ever ask is that we treat them with the respect they deserve. That is more likely to happen on a more regular basis than has ever been the case.
Perhaps by the time we gather again in ten years time, there will be less of a need to celebrate Women in sport in a standalone manner, and when we get to that point we know that we will have achieved real equality.
The fourteen brilliant sporting stars who we will celebrate today are:
Mona MacSharry – Sligo’s Swimming Champion of Ireland and bronze medallist at the European Championships in Glasgow, she also managed to win Ireland’s Fittest Family with her Mother, Father and Brother in a year to remember.
Phil Healy – Cork’s sprint sensation recovered from a broken foot to race at her first world championship in 2019. Olympic Qualification is next on the cards.
Ciara Mageean – The wee girl from Portaferry has won hearts with her performances on the track, making it to Ireland’s first 1,500-metre world Championship Final since Sonia O’Sullivan and in her winning post-race interviews. She crowned the year with a team silver medal at the Europan Cross Country Championships.
Rachael Blackmore – From a non-racing background, she has taken the sport by storm. She rode 90 winners this season, finishing runner up in the Irish Jockey’s Championship and riding her first Cheltenham Festival winner along the way.
Leona Maguire – Two professional Tour wins in the United States have seen her progress from a star player on the US College Circuit to the LPGA Tour. Majors and a tilt at the Olympics will be in her sights for 2020.
Jenny Egan – Two World Cup Medals and a number one world ranking made 2019 a season to remember for Jenny Egan who is perhaps Ireland’s most consistent performer on the European and World stage over the course of the past decade.
Katie Taylor – Four-time winner of the overall award, two-weight World Champion, Olympic Gold Medallist, Ireland’s most popular sporting personality. What more is there to say about one of our greatest ever sporting stars.
Rhasidat Adeleke – A double sprint gold at the European Youth Olympic Festival propelled her to the fore of our future sporting champions. Now it’s back to basics as she prepares to do her Leaving Cert.
Kate O’Connor – A Silver medal in the heptathlon at the European U20 Championships was Ireland’s first of any description in the sport of Jessica Ennis.
Sanita Puspure – European and World Championship Gold in the summer despite a preparation split between training and caring for her terminally ill sister. There would be few more worthy winners of the overall Award. Puspure, alongside Blackmore, Taylor and Maguire were among the nine sports stars to feature in our list of the 50 Most Influential Women in Irish Sport this year.
Niamh Kilkenny – The Galway Camóg was a stand out performer in Galway’s breakthrough year with victories over Cork and Kilkenny in one of the best All Ireland Finals in living memory.
Lyndsey Davey – The firefighter in blue won her fourth All Ireland and her fifth All-Star award in 2019. She has been a stalwart of the Dublin set up since she made her debut at the age of 14.
Denise O’Sullivan – Ireland’s Footballer of the Year, winner of the North American Women’s soccer league and recognised as one of the best players in the world, O’Sullivan is a key member of Vera Pauw’s team bidding to qualify next year for a first Major Finals.
Roisín Upton – She scored the penalty that sent Ireland’s Women’s Hockey team to the Olympics, despite having missed her chance in the regular shoot out that preceded sudden death and playing most of the game with a broken bone in her wrist. Seriously? Seriously a star performer.
Thanks to one and all for giving us so many great memories to look back on.
Watch out on our social media @SportForBusines through the afternoon as the winner is revealed.
Image Credit: Ryan Byrne, Inpho.ie