And the winner is . . . Sporting controversy at RTÉ Sport Awards

James McClean wins Sportsperson of the Year as showjumpers win Team of the Year

Republic of Ireland midfielder James McClean won the main award at the RTÉ Sport Awards on Saturday night. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

You kind of had this vision of the lady on the switchboard at RTE heaving the largest sigh of relief when ‘Ireland’s Greatest Sporting Moment’ concluded the other week, having been most probably bombarded with incensed sports fans sharing their vexation at the outcome of the voting - and possibly cursing while doing so.

‘Thank heavens,’ she might have said, ‘that’s the end of sporting controversy at Montrose for the year’.

And then she’d have been nearing the end of her shift on Saturday night, all set for home, when her switchboard would have lit up again, this time like the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square.

The first clue that something was stirring was the sight of Cian O'Connor in the studio, him having zipped home from London where he's competing at that Olympia thingie, just to have the quickest of chats with Joanne Cantwell.


Granted, his trip was probably quicker than Brian Fenton and Jim Gavin's across Dublin, what with the new Luas problems and all, but it was most likely quite costly and highly disruptive of Cian's schedule. And more than a few viewers would have been thinking, 'God, wasn't he great to come home when there's as much chance of the New York hurlers winning Team of the Year as the showjumpers'.

And then there was Tony O’Donoghue loitering outside James McClean’s house in Birmingham with a large heavy object stashed away in a holdall, which must surely have puzzled the Derry man. Although his reluctance to dial 999 denied us what would have been an entertaining conclusion to the show, a handcuffed Tony being dragged in to a police van live on our tellies.

But what was clear from the off was that if Cork got its act together they'd have had a clean sweep of the awards, they just needed some smart vote management rather than splitting their ticks beside the names of Dominic Casey, John Caulfield, Paudie Murray, Rena Buckley, Paul O'Donovan, Cork City FC, the Cork camogie team and Mark O'Donovan/Shane O'Driscoll.

In the end, they made a hames of it and only have themselves to blame, the county left empty-handed apart from a one fifth share of the team award through Shane Sweetnam.

Because, yes, the public chose the showjumpers as the team of the year. 'There is absolutely no need for that kind of language,' the switchboard lady would have spent the next couple of hours advising her callers, roughly 74 per cent of them, you'd guess, Dublin GAA supporters. Con O'Callaghan's non-nomination had already left them feeling aggrieved, Jim Gavin and Mick Bohan losing to Aidan O'Brien would have put them close to the edge, their three-in-a-row-winning team being beaten by a bunch of leaping horses tipping them over it. And there wasn't even a boy Dub nominated for Sportsperson of the Year, Noelle Healy now their only hope.

And the winner is . . . down James’ chimney came Tony, whipping a big shiny trophy out of his holdall.

Even for those of us who love James dearly, it was a little like those times your team wins a penalty when you know they shouldn't have, your left winger tumbling over an imaginary foot. You feel a bit guilty about celebrating, but then you remember all the times you should have had a penalty and didn't get one, so the guilt is washed away. Roy Keane, for example, only won the Sports Person of the Year once, in 1999, when he should have won it every year between 1993 and 2005. So, lovers of feisty hard-tackling Irish footballers with a rebellious streak were entitled to clear consciences on Saturday night.

Of course, the disgruntled would argue that Roy won things. Among the reaction spotted:


A person called Seymour, commenting on RTE’s website, replied: “He did score a goal that nearly got us somewhere.”

That's what the switchboard lady should have told everyone, before hanging up and heading home to a triple brandy and a sandwich, lest she was hungry. Speaking of which. Apart from James, our star of the week was boxer Tony Bellew for his commentating on Sky on the fight between Martin Ward and Juli Giner last Wednesday night:

“Professional boxing and amateur boxing are totally different sports . . . a professional fight is a marathon, it isn’t a sprint - it’s a war of malnutrition.”