Five to watch in 2024: Sportswomen marked for bigger and better things

These Irish sports stars were all at the top of their game this year but, to judge by their performances, they’re only getting into their stride

Mona McSharry – Swimming

The 23-year-old Sligo woman continues to go from strength to strength as she heads into her peak as a swimmer. This year she became the first female Irish swimmer to reach a world long-course final in the 100m breaststroke in Japan. In the final she was inches away in a fifth-place finish, just 0.08 seconds off bronze. The four swimmers who finished ahead of her were all Olympic gold medal winners.

She continues to excel at US collegiate level with the University of Tennessee and won three gold medals at the European under-23 Swimming Championships in Dublin. She goes into the Olympics as a genuine medal chance.

Trivia: McSharry and her family competed in the seventh series of the RTÉ TV show Ireland’s Fittest Family and won the competition under the guidance of mentor Donncha O’Callaghan.

Thammy Nguyen – Weightlifting

Thammy Nguyen is one enterprising woman, from setting up two eyelash salons in her early 20s to running a CrossFit gym in Baldoyle. A mother-of-two to boot, Nguyen juggles that with seeking to qualify for the Olympics, where she would join her younger brother Nhat, who plays badminton for Ireland.


She won Ireland’s first senior medal at the European Weightlifting Championships, bronze in the 49kg division, in Armenia this year. At only 4ft 10in, she can lift twice her body weight. Olympic weightlifting consists of two lifts – the snatch and the clean and jerk – and scores are a combination of your best lift in each. She currently lifts a total of 173kg and she needs 183kg to qualify for the Olympics.

Trivia: Born in Vietnam, Nguyen moved to Ireland when she was six years old, initially to Belturbet in Cavan and then to Dublin. Her father was a successful badminton player like her brother.

Abbie Larkin – Soccer

This summer Abbie Larkin became the youngest footballer to play for the Republic Ireland in a major tournament, at 18. When captain Katie McCabe declares someone the “future of this team” you listen, and the two have already combined for their country, with an assist from Larkin leading to a class finish by McCabe against Albania in the Nations League in October.

In September Larkin joined Scottish Premier League champions Glasgow City, again following in the footsteps of McCabe who went on loan there in 2017. With Ireland promoted to the top tier of European women’s football and Spain and England potential visitors to the Aviva next year, the sky is the limit for Larkin and her team.

Trivia: Ringsend band The Pullovers launched a song called Ringsend Abbie about Larkin being a part of the Irish squad for the Women’s World Cup.

Sophie O’Sullivan – Athletics

There is no doubt Sophie O’Sullivan has a good running pedigree; comparisons with her mother Sonia are inevitable and her father is a distance-running coach. But O’Sullivan is plotting her own path in athletics as she plans for the Olympic Games next year. At 1,500m, O’Sullivan held off the challenge of fellow Irishwoman Sarah Healy in Finland in July to win Ireland’s first European under-23 gold medal. At the World Championships in Budapest she took five seconds off her lifetime best of 4:02:15, an automatic qualifying time for Paris. The 22-year-old grew up in Australia but has chosen to represent Ireland.

Trivia: O’Sullivan is in her senior year at the University of Washington where she is majoring in journalism.

Lara Gillespie – Cycling

The Wicklow woman had some glittering successes at underage level and is starting to deliver on her early promise since winning a gold medal at the 2018 European Junior Track championships. After a couple of years of being hampered by illness and injury, the 22-year-old is heading into her peak years healthier than ever, with a more consistent schedule that is paying off.

Gillespie won the elimination race in the final round of the UCI Track Champions League in London last month, four months after she won two under-23 European Championship titles in Portugal. Her team is on track for qualification for the Olympics in Paris, looking to secure their place in upcoming events.

Trivia: Gillespie suffered from a rare undiagnosed gynaecological and kidney condition called ohvira, and took part in the Barretstown Cycle Challenge this year to support children living with serious illness.

David Gorman

David Gorman

David Gorman is a sports journalist with The Irish Times