Most Influential Women in Irish Sport

We began compiling this list of the 40 Most Influential Women in Irish Sport in response to being told that it wasn’t possible.  A ridiculous contention and one which we believe we have firmly refuted through highlighting the vast number of motivated, intelligent, committed individuals we are fortunate to have working or involved in sport.

Our list contains players, fighters and sailors; sponsors, administrators and broadcasters.  Each in their own way proves every day that sport is neither for men, nor for women but for all of us.

Some are devoted to Women’s sport, many more to sport in general which is where we want to get to.

In order to achieve parity of esteem for sport played by boys, girls, men and women we need to focus on it not as mens or women’s but as sport, in the same way we would health, or education.  Equality is not an aspiration, it’s a right.  Sport is lagging behind where it should be.  It is our duty to the next generation to make sure that does not last.

This is the start of our campaigning for that parity of esteem.  We are gathering a great group of people who will help make it happen.

This list is borne of personal knowledge, instinct, and a significant number of nominations. It is not definitive, it is not ordered, it is one that could go on and which will return again in 2015.  For now though here is the list.

MirrorOur 40th and final addition to the list for 2014 is You. Equality will never be delivered by way of an edict.  It has to grow from people believing something to be right and doing something to achieve it.  If you are reading this as a player, as a coach, as an administrator, as a fan, as a politician, as a sponsor, you have a role to play in making sure that our daughters have an equal right to sport as our sons.

Until such time as parity of esteem is there as natural we need to work harder to ensure that Women’s sport is treated with equal respect, given more coverage, seen by more people, attended by more people, and assisted step up by more organisations.

Go to watch a camogie match with a young relative, ask that more diverse sports and physical activities are available to them, and ask why not if they aren’t.  If you are reading this, you have an interest.  Make sure now that you play a part in making equality real.

Caroline MurphyCaroline Murphy is a Director of the National Sports Campus and its representative on the High Performance Committee of the irish Institute of Sport.

During her early career she was the most senior women within sports production at RTE and was a strong influence over coverage at successive Olympic Games and in the stations coverage of domestic sport, especially via the Sunday Game.

Murphy will chair the 2014 Federation of Irish Sport annual conference and is a respected adviser across sports administration and the media.  If there is a woman appointed to head the new merged entity of Sport Ireland in 2014, she is a likely candidate.

Annabel TongeAnnabel Tonge is Head of Marketing with SSE Airtricity who last week announced an extension of their sponsorship of the Dublin Marathon.  The company is also the headline partner of the Airtricity Premier League and official energy partner of the FAI.

Internationally the brand is committed to a range of sports and Tonge is an experienced marketeer who will ensure that the brand and the properties are working closely together.  She has previously served in senior roles with Applegreen and in Britain and Hong Kong with Procter and Gamble.

Edel McCarthyEdel McCarthy heads up sponsorship and digital marketing at Electric Ireland.  Together with Head of Marketing Lisa Browne she is responsible for the brands involvement in sponsorship and activation across the GAA Minor Football and Hurling Championships as well as with Hockey.

McCarthy’s experience and engagement with the ever more important digital environment, as well as Electric Ireland’s spending power as a major brand means that she will have an important influence over how branded sporting sponsorships are promoted through digital media and will likely set benchmarks that others will be looking to follow.

Caroline Ryan

Caroline Ryan is one of Ireland’s most successful athletes in not only one but two sports.  She is currently ranked number one in the world for 3KM pursuit track cycling, and became Ireland’s first medallist at a World Championships in over 100 years when landing Bronze in 2012.

In 2009 she won silver as tandem rider with Catherine Walsh at the World Paracycling Championships as she transitioned from her first sport of rowing.  In that she had been the first irish woman to win at the Henley Royal Regatta and rowed internationally for Ireland between 2005 and 2008.

Given the rise in popularity of cycling and a determined effort in Ireland and internationally to raise participation amongst women, Ryan is an increasingly important role model within Women’s sport.

Rachel WyseRachel Wyse enters our list given the influence she will have on the perception of gaelic games and Irish sport in the UK and further afield over the next three years and perhaps beyond.

As the main presenter of Sky Sports’ GAA coverage she will be an important conduit for how the games are seen and how they grow in other markets.

Certain commentators have let themselves down with comments about style over substance but Wyse is a seasoned performer, with a history of international sporting performance, and like others in the media will show that sport is no longer just a cosy gentlemen’s club.

Orla Barry 1Orla Barry was one of the stars of the Irish Paralympics team in London 2012 and won Silver at the World Championships in France last year.  She is currently on the path to going one better at the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016.

Barry came to sport through the Irish Wheelchair Association at the age of nine, initially through swimming before concentrating on field sports in Athletics where she has consistently improved towards the worlds best.

Beyond the ring she has been a consistent performer as a role model and an advocate for elite sport among disabled female athletes.  Alongside others such as Anne Ebbs, Eimar Breathnach, Bethany Firth and many more she is providing inspiration and an example of what is possible for women through sport.

Sharon WalshSharon Walsh is Marketing Director at Heineken Ireland.  Since joining the brand from Coca Cola in 2011 she has overseen the Irish management and activation of two of the biggest sponsorship deals in sport the Heineken Cup and the Champions’ League.

The latter was driven by international campaigns but speaking at this year’s Irish Sponsorship Summit Walsh revealed that Ireland was Heineken’s 8th largest global market by volume, ahead of Brazil in 11th, and Britain in 18th.  In terms of per capita value it is second only to the Netherlands.

That suggests her voice will be an important one in the next phase of Heineken’s involvement in sports sponsorship, however that may play out in light of the new European Rugby Champions’ Cup.

She will also be a key player in terms of how the industry fights back against the continued threat of a ban on alcohol sponsorship with sport.

Elaine CareyElaine Carey is the Chief Commercial Officer at Three and includes the company’s approach to sponsorship and marketing among her many senior responsibilities.  Given that the regulatory approval for Three’s takeover of O2 in Ireland is due shortly, she will hold the purse strings on three of Ireland’s major sponsorship properties.

As these include the Irish National Rugby and Soccer teams, as well as the venue currently known as the O2, this will place her as being one of the key figures in Irish sport and entertainment.

Carey has been involved at a senior level within Three for the past seven years having previously worked at Eircom and as Head of Sales and Distribution with Digicel in the Caribbean.

Muirne LaffanMúirne Laffan is Managing Director of Digital at RTE and will have primary responsibility for the rolling out and expansion of GAA Go, the new joint venture aimed at bringing Gaelic Games to international audiences via subscription based streaming.

This is perhaps one of the most significant projects of the decade for Irish sport and the GAA and RTE are following a model successfully laid down in the United States by Major League Baseball and the NFL.

Laffan has been with RTE since 2001 and sits on the Executive Board.  Prior to that she spent ten years on Madison Avenue as a senior executive within the New York offices of McCann.

Linda HoeyLinda Hoey is Host Services Manager for the Rugby World Cup at the International Rugby Board, based in Dublin.  She heads a small team that are handing over to the local organising committee for England 2015, and focusing now on taking the tournament to Japan for the first time in 2019.

Hoey is also a key player in the management of bidding for the 2023 World Cup where Ireland is a leading contender.

She came to sports administration after studying a degree in sports management at UCD as part of a recasting of her career in her early 30’s and is now a global leader in the sphere, with key responsibility for one of the world’s major sporting events.

Sinead HeratySinead Heraty is Chief Executive of the Irish Ladies Golf Union and a key player in the new Confederation of Irish Golf.  She has overseen the hosting of the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle and the emergence of young Irish players like the Maguire twins Lisa and Leona.

One of the key stated aims of the Confederation of Irish Golf is to raise the participation level among women from a current low of 21% of golfers towards the international norm of 30%.  That is a major challenge but with the ILGU now firmly embedded within the broader golf community, Heraty has a fair shot at making it happen.

Maeve BuckleyMaeve Buckley is presently standing in as interim CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport.  She is also a board member at the National Sports Campus Development Authority and a Director of Line Up sports management agency.

Buckley was CEO of Platinum One Group at the time of their successfully delivering the 2006 Ryder Cup for Ireland and is a respected figure across the UK and European sports administration sphere.

Her experience in the research, analysis and planning of major sports tourism projects makes it likely she will play a key role in the development of new projects based around that area in the coming years.

Sinead McNulty

Sinead McNulty is Head of Sport at the Dublin Institute of Technology.  DIT has always had a strong reputation for team sports but that is likely to climb dramatically as delivery begins on the new campus at Grangegorman in Dublin.

Sport is very much at the heart of what is the largest single capital building project in the history of the state.  Her role will be to manage elite and participation programmes that will make the most of the new facilities.

McNulty sits on the board of Student Sport Ireland and has experience of working across local authorities and in business with AIB.

Sue RonanSue Ronan, as manager of the Republic of Ireland national team, is a central figure in how women’s team sport is likely to be perceived over the coming years.

The success and growth of the Bus Eireann Women’s National League echoes advances across Europe in the support and coverage of Women’s soccer.

Irish performances in recent matches and tournaments suggest that qualification for a senior major tournament finals is not far away.

To achieve that would be transformational in the way that the Women’s Rugby Grand Slam has delivered a surge in popularity for that sport.  The potential for soccer to do so within a wider playing base is enormous and Ronan is a competent and passionate advocate of programmes developed in order to deliver on that potential.

Working alongside Chairperson of the Women’s FAI Niamh O’Donoghue, Ronan is a key player in how team sports for women and girls are being developed and managed.

Kelli O'KeefeKelli O’Keefe is Director of Sport at Slattery Communications.  The company handles media and sponsorship affairs for a range of the biggest players in Irish sport including Sky, Allianz, Ladbrokes and the IRFU.

Sky’s involvement in the GAA for the first time this year, as well as their continued broadcasting of the new European Rugby Champions’ Cup will have them in a continual spotlight and O’Keefe has been key to preparing their responses amid the firestorm that greeted their GAA contract, in the media at least.

A graduate of UCD’s Sports Management Degree course she cut her teeth as an intern working with the powerful IMG in London where she was most closely involved with US sprinter and broadcast personality Michael Johnson.

She returned to Ireland and took up a variety of roles at Pembroke Communications before taking up the Head of Sport role at Slattery in 2013.

Maire ScullyMaire Scully is Head of the Sports Marketing and Sponsorship division of WHPR.  Having started out her working life with Aer Lingus she became Basketball Ireland’s first press officer in 1997 before moving to the world of PR and sponsorship consultancy in 2001.

Advisers hold a key role in determining the ways in which major sponsors both initially engage and subsequently activate their relationships with sport and Scully heads a team that plays a key role in the sporting involvement of Guinness, Liberty Insurance, AIB, Electric Ireland and Adidas among others.

She was a panellist at the 2013 Business of Women’s Sport Conference at the UCD Smurfit Business School.

Helen O'RourkeHelen O’Rourke is CEO of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association.  She heads up the largest single grouping of women team sports participants in the country with membership heading towards a 2016 target laid down three years ago of 200,000 registered players.

O’Rourke comes from a teaching background and it was an approach to Cumman na mBunscoil to engage young girls in the Allianz sponsored schools football tournament that gave her a first taste of sporting administration.

She became involved in her native Dublin’s County planning and took on the role of CEO of the LGFA in 1997 after serving as President.

Over the coming months and years O’Rourke will have to contend with the demands of a growing membership organisation, with TV rights and sponsorship, and with the moves towards greater integration as part of the overall GAA.

Una MayDr Una May is director of participation and ethics at the irish Sports Council.  She has had responsibility for the Council’s Anti Doping Unit for more than a decade.  On the basis that if sport is not honest then it is pointless, her role at national and international level in the battle against performance enhancing drugs gives her a very influential platform.

In 2005 she chaired the independent observer group at the International Amateur Athletics Federation World Athletics Championships.  She works closely with the World Anti Doping Agency and Ireland has been highly praised for its approach to testing but also to athlete education around doping.  Her latest role in encouraging participation for the right reasons will be a vital one.

Lisa ComerfordLisa Comerford is the Consumer Marketing Director of Eircom with overall responsibility for the company’s relationships with the GAA and Special Olympics Ireland.

The sponsorship of the All Ireland Football Championship is due for renewal this year and it is in the potential for this in the digital space of quadband that Comerford’s decision making and influence may have the greatest impact for sport in Ireland.

With a psychology and research background, Comerford learnt the commercial trade at Coca Cola before switching to telecoms.  With four operators becoming three in a sector that remains very powerful in sport, it is an area where many of the sporting sponsorship calls will be made in the next few years.

The company’s support of Special Olympics Ireland peaks today with the National Collection day where substantial sums are raised in workplaces and on streets up and down the country.

Anne O'LearyAnne O’Leary has been CEO of Vodafone Ireland since February 2013 and is one of the most prominent and high profile business women in the country.  She is also a very keen sportswomen with Triathlon high on her list of ways to unwind.

Vodafone itself has been less prominent in sport in recent years, stepping away from sponsorship of Dublin GAA, though it does remain the main sponsor of Triathlon Ireland and is likely to become more active again after the planned takeover of O2 by 3.

The way in which Vodafone has engaged staff in training and competition programmes is a potential model for how others can do likewise.

O’Leary’s support for active CSR programmes includes those run by Young Social Innovators and her personal exposure to sport, as well as influence within business and government makes her worthy of a place on this list.

Annalise Murphy Portrait

Annalise Murphy stands tall among Irish sailors and is likely to be vying for national and global attention as a Gold medal prospect in two years time at the Rio Olympics.

She brought sailing to a new audience when just being edged out of a medal at the London games but bounced back winning European Championship Gold on Dublin Bay last year.

Murphy is now ranked number two in the world and has set her sights on Rio Gold. She is also a winning ambassador for the sport of sailing which has been investing in youth and building capacity for sport sailing around the coasts of Ireland.

As Murphy’s star rises she will play a key role in expanding the reach of the sport and developing new clubs and medal prospects along the way.  She will be one of the youngest to make it onto this list but is fully deserving of her place.

Joanna KavanaghJoanna Kavanagh is Head of Corporate Affairs with Three Ireland and is likely to play a key role in determining future policy in sponsorship of sport for the company when it takes over the operations and portfolio of O2 Ireland.

Kavanagh previously worked in the sponsorship department at O2 and is familiar with the relationships built up by both companies with the IRFU and the FAI as their respective principal sponsors.

Both deals are solid for the next three years though so long as the planned takeover goes through it is likely that the rugby deal will switch over to the Three brand, as is carried on the Republic of Ireland soccer shirts.

As a member of the companies senior management team and with a strong background in the sports sponsorship world, her voice will carry a lot of weight at the top end of the Irish sports sponsorship world.

Sarah KeaneSarah Keane is CEO of Swim Ireland and Secretary of the Federation of Irish Sport.  Having qualified and worked as a solicitor with Mathesons, she took up the position within Swim Ireland in 2004. This was a time when the body was facing major legal challenges surrounding issues of child welfare.

To have resolved these satisfactorily and enabled swimming to establish itself as among the most popular participation sports in the country is a notable achievement.

Keane holds strong views on volunteering and the commercial side of sport.  She spoke at a major EU Conference in Dublin in 2013 where she said: “One of the greatest challenges in sport is to manage the passion.  If the flames are too high, and expectation is raised to a level that cannot be consistently achieved then that is as damaging as if the flames are too low and interest in what we do wanes in the public and the commercial eye.”

“I believe that sport in Ireland delivers a service to the population that is essential but is often undervalued.  Our funding system is based on grants but if we are providing a valued public service then we should be treated as doing so.  A change in mindset from a culture of grant entitlement to service provision could lead to great improvement in the way in which sport is managed and delivered.”


Annette ni DhathlaoiAnnette Ní Dhathlaoí is Head of Marketing at Liberty Insurance and was a key decision maker in signing of a deal to sponsor the All Ireland Hurling and Camogie Championships from 2013 through to 2017.

Her career in Irish business has covered Nestle, Glanbia, Unilever, Heineken and Electric Ireland, all in senior brand and marketing roles.

The decision to combine the Camogie with the Hurling Championships was a breakthrough for Women’s sport in that it gave parity of recognition to the men’s and women’s variant of our most traditional national sport.

It was not only in name either as Camogie has featured prominently across all marketing and advertising of the GAA connection.  Ní Dhathlaoí was key to recognising the potential of Women’s sport to reach new audiences in an engaging way.  When we look back that will be seen as a critical positive development.

Jackie Dunne is unique as the only female Chairperson of the Board of the National Governing Body of a major sport which has men and women members.

She was elected to the Board of Basketball Ireland two years ago and is standing for another term this summer.

Dunne has over 20 years experience working in multi-national financial services organizations, including HSBC and BNY Mellon where she is Business Development Director

Basketball Ireland’s membership is split roughly 50/50 on a gender basis with over 200 clubs on the island of Ireland and a revival of international representative teams at under age level.

Sonia O'Sullivan

Sonia O’Sullivan is recognised as one of the greatest international sporting stars that Ireland has produced.  A three time European Champions and two time World Cross Country Champion, she became World 5,000 metres Champion in 1995 and memorable ran to a silver medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Since retiring from competitive running in 2007 she has maintained a high public profile in both commercial and administrative terms.  In 2012 she was Chef de Mission for the Irish Olympic team at the London games.

She also carried the Olympic Flame on the last leg of it’s visit to Dublin that same year.  Although living in Australia with her partner and two daughters she is continually invited to lead or participate in initiatives at home.  In February she led a Flora initiative in Cork on lowering cholesterol and is currently on radio advertising fish oil.

There is no question of the affection in which she is held, nor her ability to engage people in healthy sporting activity.  If she ever returns full time to live in Ireland, her influence would be greatly magnified but even from afar, her influence remains at a high level.

Lisa ClancyLisa Clancy is Director of Communications for the GAA.  She looks after the mainstream media portrayal of the Association and has been central to the expansion of online branding and especially social media.

She has ensured and assisted the many units of the GAA in establishing a presence across social media, in the channels where people are increasingly consuming their sports information and forming opinions.

Having worked previously for ICI and HSBC, and until 2008 as Head of Corporate Communications with the Health Service Executive, Clancy has a rich private and public sector experience that has served her well in what is one of the top media posts in sport in Ireland.

Sarah OSheaSarah O’Shea is the Deputy CEO of the Football Association of Ireland and Chair of the Federation of Irish Sport.  She is a qualified solicitor and joined the FAI as Legal Director in 2006 having qualified through the FIFA Masters programme.

She established the legal framework of the FAI and overhauled the disciplinary process that is now in place.

O’Shea is Ireland’s representative on the powerful UEFA Hat Trick Committee which distributes around €9 million to each of the member nations.

In 2013 she stepped up as the first Deputy CEO of the FAI and it is unlikely her ascent through the world of sporting administration will stop there.

Fiona CoghlanFiona Coghlan is one of only three Irish Captains to lift a Grand Slam in Rugby.  Having played internationally for 13 years it was a fitting tribute when she was also awarded the Irish Times Sportswoman of the year in December.

Her leadership on the field of play over the course of her career has been immense but part of the reason for her inclusion in this list is her commitment to promoting Women’s sport through an accomplished media profile.

Coghlan has been front and centre stage as Aon came on board as sponsors of the Women’s international team and as they played their first match this season at the Aviva Stadium.

In true amateur tradition she combines her rigorous training schedule for club, province and national team with holding down a full time job as a teacher in Lucan.  Like a number of those who have gone before on this list and who will come in the next weeks, she will be a key role model for younger players coming through who can see that it is possible to play sport to a high level as part of a busy life.

Katie Taylor away from the spotlightKatie Taylor has to be on any list of the most influential Women in Irish sport.  Her dominance of boxing at European and International level was crowned when she became the Olympic Lightweight Champion at the London Games in 2012 and became the most popular sports star in the country.

Her family values and faith have been a core part of what brought her to the heights of sport and at the same time kept her grounded in terms of how the fame would affect her.

She has topped popular polls and won the Irish Times Sportswomen of the Year in 2012.  Her Olympic triumph was a sporting moment that truly stopped the nation in celebration of her achievement.  Since then Taylor has been preparing to repeat the Olympic feat in Rio 2016 and adding to her reputation on the international stage along the way.  She is the Irish ambassador for Sky Sport’s Living for Sport, an outreach programme bringing sporting stars and mentors into schools across the country.

She represented Ireland at senior level in soccer and won an FAI Women’s Cup medal with Peamount United in 2010 before stepping back from soccer to concentrate on boxing.

Joan O'FlynnJoan O’Flynn was appointed as CEO of the Camogie Association in 2013.  She previously served three years as President of the sport which has 100,000 players around the country and is growing it’s appeal massively since the coming on board of Liberty Insurance in a breakthrough deal as sponsor of the All Ireland Championships.

That deal was the first to cross over between the related sports of Hurling and Camogie and was instrumental as a spark in the increased awareness, confidence and potential of Women’s sport.

O’Flynn is an experienced operator in the public sector having been a key player in the Combat Poverty Agency as well as in roles at the Department of Health and the National University of Ireland.

Developing team sports for young girls will be an important part of the social imperative towards keeping them playing, an area that needs substantial effort in order that they do not miss out on the many health, personal and career development benefits that sport brings.  O’Flynn will be a key player in that area over the coming years.

Sarah O'ConnorSarah O’Connor became the first full time Executive Director of the Federation of Irish Sport in 2007 and since then has been the driving force behind the association representing the interests of most of Ireland’s sports administrators.

She has a legal background having qualified with a law degree and trained as a solicitor with Arthur Cox before moving into sport.  At school she played everything from tennis to hockey, netball and athletics and has completed a Dublin Marathon.  The grounding she got from school in a multi sports environment has shaped the way she champions all and not just the major sports.

Instrumental in pushing for sport to be treated seriously within Government she oversees the sector’s annual pre budget review and caused a stir last year when criticising the budget cuts to current spending, some of which were subsequently reversed.

She oversees the Just Sport Ireland arbitration service and last year ran the Federation’s first annual conference persuading Sir Keith Mills of Air Miles and London Olympics renown to come over as the guest speaker.

Mary DavisMary Davis is the President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe and Chairperson of Special Olympics Ireland.  She has worked within the Special Olympics movement for over 30 years and was CEO when the World Games came to Dublin in 2003.

She was a founder of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland and has served on the Irish Sports Council, the National Sports Campus Development Authority and many other organisations that deliver in terms of sport, equality and opportunity in Ireland.

There is no doubt that she has, and continues to make a significant impact on the way in which sport is perceived in this country and is involved in the National Special Olympic Games which will take place in Limerick later this year.

Davis ran as a candidate in the 2011 Presidential election and has influence within Government and Society circles that goes beyond her important roles in sport.

caral_ni_chuilin_portraitCarál Ní Chuilín is the Northern Ireland Executive Minister with responsibility for sport. Elected to the Assembly in 2007 she was appointed Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure in May 2011.

Her remit is important in that she has control over the planned expenditure of £110 million in the coming years on the redevelopment of Ravenhill for Ulster Rugby, of Windsor Park for the Irish Football Association and of the building of a new stadium by the Ulster GAA at Casement Park.

This is part of a 10 year ‘Sport Matters’ strategic plan which has already seen great strides forward in terms of using sport to heal the wounds between communities in Northern Ireland.

Ni Chuilín is a supporter of cross border initiatives and played a key role in supporting the arrival in May of the Giro d’Italia which will boost North and South.

Jacqui HurleyJacqui Hurley became the first woman to present a national sports programme in Ireland in 2009 when, at the age of only 25, she became an anchor on the RTE Sunday Sport show.

She played Camogie for her native Cork and Basketball for Ireland and went on to become a manager of the Irish U16 Basketball team.

The Irish media has not been as quick to embrace women presenters as in the UK and elsewhere but it is inevitable that there will be more opportunities on bigger platforms in the years ahead and Hurley is at the head of a pack of talented presenters that will be looking to press there case.

At the end of last year she was responsible for a documentary on the lives of top amateur GAA stars which featured Anna Geary, Lar Corbett, Michael Carton and Eoin Cadogan.

She is enthusiastic on social media and uses the profile she has built to highlight charities, local grassroots events as well as sporting achievement at the highest level.

Nikki SymmonsNikki Symmons is Ireland’s most capped international sports stars, having represented her country in hockey over 200 times as well as playing cricket at under age and senior level.

She combined this with a career as a special needs teacher at St Andrews College in Dublin where she also coached within it’s successful hockey programme.

Her position on this list is secured by her commitment to publicly pressing the case for greater recognition of Women’s sport.  She was a compelling speaker at last years Sport for Business hosted Business of Women’s Sport conference, and built another platform earlier this year through being the winning coach on Ireland’s Fittest Family series on RTE.

An ambassador for Arthritis Ireland, Adidas and Bering Watches, Symmons is currently studying for a Masters degree in Sports Administration in Lausanne and is likely to develop into a real leader within that sector once her playing career comes to an end.

Derval O'RourkeDerval O’Rourke earns her place on this initial list because of a combination of what she has achieved on the track in a succesful athletics career and for the waves she makes with her view on Women’s sport and athlete welfare.

A three time Olympian and seven time medallist at major competitions, the highlight of her career to date was  winning Gold in the World Indoor Championships in 2006.  She missed out on another medal seven years later, last year in Gothenburg by 0.01 of a second but subsequently had her placing upgraded due to a doping disqualification for one of the athletes that beat her.

While still competing at the top level she has also secured a platform for intelligent analysis of sport from the inside via a weekly column in the Irish Examiner.  Doping in athletics has cost her some glory moments and she is an advocate of more research into the long term impact of drug taking so as to build a stronger case for never taking drugs in the first place.

Trusted and confided in by many other athletes, O’Rourke’s influence is already greater than would be the case as a focused athlete and promises to become greater in the years to come.

Jessica HarringtonJessica Harrington competed as a three day eventer for Ireland at European, World and Olympic level for Ireland before turning her hand to the training of racehorses.  The dual Champion Chase winner Moscow Flyer was one of many high class winners she has produced at the Cheltenham Festival.

That tally was added to in 2014 when she prepared Jezki to win the Champion Hurdle at the same venue for leading owner JP McManus.  She has also trained valuable winners on the flat and is one of the few top trainers to be equally at home at the Curragh as at Fairyhouse or Punchestown.

Harrington is a regular commentator on racing matters and a strong supporter of getting people involved in ownership through syndicates.  Her influence does not end at the gate either as her son in law Richie Galwey is Racing Manager at Punchestown

Photo by John Harrison/Harrison Photography

Dame Mary Peters won Gold for Northern Ireland in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. She was the only Gold medallist from these islands at the games which went down in history as the scene of one of the world’s worst sporting terrorism outrages.

Peters paved the way on the track for Denise Lewis and Jessica Ennis who subsequently won gold in the same multi-disciplie event in 2000 and 2012.

Off the track she has been a long time campaigner for peace. She established the Mary Peters Trust which gives grants to young athletes across all sports and distributed over £25,000 in 2013.

She is a patron of Athletics NI, a freeman of the cities of Lisburn and Belfast, and Northern Ireland’s premier athletics track is named after her.

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