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Akpe-Moses named July’s Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman

The Nigerian-born sprinter claimed Ireland’s first women’s sprinting medal in Italy

Gina Akpe-Moses with her 100m gold medal at the homecoming of the Irish team from the European Athletics Under-20 Championships in Italy. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman Award for July: Gina Akpe-Moses (Athletics)

If you ever wonder what kind of talent is coming through from the youthful ranks of Irish sport then the rather lengthy shortlist for our July award would warm the heart. In the end we opted for Gina Akpe-Moses after her outstanding form at the European Under-20 Championships in Italy saw her triumph in the 100 metres, but her competition for the award was as stiff as she faced en route to winning gold.

There was Dubliner Aoife Hopkins following in the path of you-know-who when she won the Under-21 Laser Radial European Championships in France, with Nenagh’s Aisling Keller making it a one-two for Ireland by winning silver.

Teenager Noelle Lenihan, meanwhile, added to her medal collection when she won silver in the discus at the World Para Athletics Championships in London, a feat matched by fellow Corkonians Orla Barry and Niamh McCarthy.

Over in Hungary, Athlone’s Kate Derwin and Cork’s Abbie Sweetnam helped the Irish Under-16 team to gold in the European Pony Championships, with 15-year-old Derwin going on to win silver in the individual event, while Kildare trio Zara Nelson, Hannah Adams and Isabelle Comerford and Laois’s Jennifer Kuehnle combined to win team Eventing bronze.

And Hungary was the host nation again for the European Youth Olympic Festival where six Irish girls collected medals, Sarah Healy winning the 1500m, Rhasidat Adekele taking silver in the 200m, Lara Gillespie doing likewise in the Cycling Time Trial, Patience Jumbo-Gula winning bronze in the 100m before teaming up with Adekele, Niamh Foley and Miriam Daly to come third in the 4x100m. To complete the medal haul, Jade Williams won bronze in the Hammer.

No short of promise, then, with Akpe-Moses’ future prospects looking especially hopeful after she earned herself the title of the best women’s under-20 sprinter in Europe, at the age of just 18, winning Ireland’s first European women’s sprint title at under-20 to senior level.

While she’s now based in Birmingham, where she’s a member of Birchfield Harriers, moving there from Dundalk three years ago, there’s no disputing the Nigerian-born runner’s allegiances having gained Irish nationality at the age of eight and represented her adopted country since she was fifteen. Her potential was first spotted when she joined St Gerard’s Athletic Club in Dundalk when she was seven, and it was fitting that her former coach there, Michael O’Connor, was in Grosetto to see her win gold.

She’ll only be 21 come the Tokyo Olympics, but she’s set her sights on making it there. She’s dreaming big.

Previous monthly winners (awards run from December 2016 to November 2017, inclusive)  

December: Leanne Kiernan (Soccer). The Cavan teenager had an exceptional 12 months on the club and international front, excelling for the Irish Under-17s and 19s before making her debut at senior level, marking it by scoring and collecting the player of the match award. She helped Shelbourne to a league and cup double, scoring a hat-trick in the FAI Cup final, and won the FAI Young Player of the Year award.

January: Gráinne Dwyer (Basketball). The Thurles woman won her fifth National Cup medal and third MVP (Most Valuable Player) award from the last four finals when Glanmire beat Courtyard Liffey Celtics 61-48, Dwyer’s outstanding form helping put the Cork club on course for its third consecutive league and cup double.  

February: Paula Fitzpatrick (Rugby). In the absence of the injured Niamh Briggs, Fitzpatrick captained the Irish team to victory in the opening four games of their Six Nations campaign, setting up a Grand Slam decider against England on St Patrick’s Day. It wasn’t to be, England much the stronger side on the day, but it was an encouraging warm-up for this month’s World Cup.  

March: Aoife Cassidy (Camogie). Playing alongside her sisters Eilis and Brona, Aoife Cassidy captained Derry club Slaughtneil, from a townland made up of just 350 homes, to their first All-Ireland Senior Camogie Club Championship and only the second ever for Ulster when they beat Galway’s Sarsfields at Croke Park.  

April: Jessica Harrington (Horse Racing) and Chloe Magee (Badminton). In the space of a month Harrington completed the Triple Crown of Cheltenham’s great championship races, Sizing John winning the Gold Cup to add to her previous successes in the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase, and then won the Irish Grand National for the first time with Our Duke. Magee, meanwhile, became  the first Irish woman to win a European Championship medal in badminton, partnering brother Sam to bronze in the mixed doubles in Denmark.

May: Leona Maguire (Golf). Even before she won the British Amateur Championship in June, Maguire had been added to our 2017 list after an outstanding season with Duke University that earned her multiple awards, including becoming the first player to win the prestigious Annika Award twice.

June: Mona McSharry (Swimming). The 16-year-old from Sligo became Ireland’s most decorated European Junior medallist when she won gold in the 50m and 100m backstroke and silver in the 200m at the European Junior Championships in Israel, to add to the silver and bronze she won at that level the year before.