Earls Crowned King at Rugby Awards

It was some night of celebration at the Clayton Hotel in Ballsbridge last night as 800 of Ireland’s sporting and business leaders gathered to celebrate the Zurich Irish Rugby Awards with Rugby Players Ireland.

Munster and Ireland’s Keith Earls recieved a massive warm reception when he was unveiled as winner of the Zurich Players’ Player of the Year 2018 voted on by his fellow players.

Earls, made his debut for Ireland in 2008 and enjoyed a stellar season for both club and country despite injuries along the way.

His sprint back to stop an Italian try in the NatWest 6 Nations game at the Aviva Stadium was rightly central to the highlights reel and he gave a touching reflection on life, family, health and Axel Foley in his interview on the stage with TV3 and Off The Ball presenter Joe Molloy.

You will be able to see the highlights of the night when a package is broadcast on TV3 on Friday night, ahead of Saturday’s big Guinness PRO 14 semi final between Leinster and Munster.  The audeince were treated to an inside glimpse of TV land when the introduction had to be rerecorded after a short break, to somewhat raucous cheers it must be said.

The staging of the Awards was exceptional last night, as will be seen on TV3 and full credit to Fonola Roache and the team from Rugby Players Ireland, Zurich and Sport for Business member Titan Experience who pulled together the show for the show element on the night.

Jacob Stockdale was named as the Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year 2018. The Ulster winger, who is now the record try-scorer in a Six Nations campaign, first came to prominence in an Ireland jersey following several try-scoring performances in the November internationals. In claiming the award, Stockdale came in ahead of strong competition in the form of Leinster duo James Ryan and Jordan Larmour.

The BNY Mellon Women’s XVs Player of the Year 2018 as voted by members of the Ireland squad was presented to Claire Molloy for several outstanding performances throughout the season.

She played down the challenge of being a doctor in between training sessions but that alone says much about her personal level of commitment to an Irish team that has been through a year of massive highs and lows but which has survived stronger and will thrive again.

Irish 7’s captain Lucy Mulhall claimed the Rugby Players Ireland IRFU Women’s 7s Player of the Year, in a week where Ireland claimed a best ever finish at the Canada 7s in Langford.  She also took the chance to congratulate Wicklow’s GAA players, of which she was once one herself.

The Mason Alexander Supporters’ Player of the Year 2018 as voted by the public was presented to Connacht’s Bundee Aki. Aki, who was an integral part of Connacht’s historic Pro 12 win in 2016, had another outstanding season putting in top class performances for both Connacht and Ireland.

The award was greeted with great enthusiasm by Connacht’s Brian Mahony and Gavin Duffy who travelled up from Galway for the night and were busy working away already on next year and beyond in the Province.

Many of Ireland’s Grand Slam heroes were present last night for what was a celebration of momentous season for Irish rugby on the field. Joe Schmidt presented medsla to those players who had played a part but weren’t there at twickenham on St Patrick’s Day  and gave a warm speech on his own obsessive nature saying he “wasn’t really a slippers kind of guy and had never watched a box set in his life.”

Several of Leinster’s newly crowned European Champions were also amongst the guests and we heard from Josh van der Flier, Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney in his role as President of Rugby Players Ireland.

Mick Dawson and Kevin Quinn must have shaken almost every hand in the room as congratul;ations reined in for last weekend’s European Cup triumph in Bilbao.

CEO Simon Keogh deserves great credit for steering through a year of huge highs and also major challenge in his first 12 months in the hot seat and last night was a great tribute to the strength of the organisation.

Vodafone, Volkswagen and Mason Alexander were all there to present popular awards with one of the best being to Jack McGrath, accepted on his behalf by Shane Jennings and Créde Sheehy Kelly who has done so much to build the really importasnt work of the Tackle Your Feelings Campaign.

It was revealed last night that through the sponsor Zurich this was now being echoed by the player organisation in Aussie Rules Football, a development we wil return to.

All of the winners on the night received a Seiko watch kindly provided by Fields Jewellers.

Joining Ireland’s heroes in the BNY Mellon Hall of Fame was former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll. Duncan Casey, who departed Munster for Grenoble in recent months, was awarded the Vodafone Medal for Excellence, which rewards on-field effort combined with off-field commitment to the game.

“Winning a Zurich Irish Rugby Award is one of the highest honours a player can receive in the game here in Ireland,” said Keogh.

“There have been many great achievements by Irish players this year, but to be acknowledged by your teammates and opponents in this manner shows just how much of an impact a player has made throughout the season. I am thrilled for Keith who has had a fantastic season, and many before that.”

“I wish to extend my congratulations to all of our worthy winners tonight – and to all of those who were nominated,” added Anthony Brennan, CEO of Zurich in Ireland.

“Zurich is delighted to sponsor these Awards, recognizing the achievements of Irish rugby players in what has been a remarkable season for the sport at a national and provincial level.  We look forward to continuing our support of Rugby Players Ireland and the Tackle Your Feelings campaign, which encourages people to look after their mental wellbeing, with the support of some of Irish rugby’s most influential names to inspire and help others.”

Sport for Business attended last night in the sparkling company of Gemma Bell, Sharon Woods, Ashley Morrow and Killian Mullen.

It was a great night and one that is worth watching back when it is broadcast.  Some year for one year in the sport.

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Image Credit: Inpho Photography

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