It's another sign of the times when an end-of-year sportswoman awards end up being less about the women and all about the awards, starting with outright winner Kellie Harrington.
In the end the verdict was unanimous – an unprecedented year of success for Irish women, and an Irish woman who conquered the world for real, all reflected in the 15th staging of the Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year Awards for 2018.
Because while boxing World champion Harrington was named outright winner, all 12 monthly winners, 10 individual monthly winners, and four joint-winners – and across 10 different sports too – were living proof that never before has Irish women’s sport celebrated such a high level of success and achievement.
Among them were four World champions, World Cup finalists, the fastest Irish woman of all time, the fastest Under-18 1,500m runner in the world, Ireland’s first-ever medal winner in an individual modern pentathlon World Cup event – and that was just for starters.
At the awards luncheon in Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel on Friday, Malachy Logan, sports editor at The Irish Times, opened proceedings by acknowledging how far the awards have come in those 15 years.
“It seems like only yesterday when these awards started,” he said. “Looking back at those in inaugural awards in 2004 it is hard to believe the amazing progress women’s sport has made since then. At the time, there was no significant national awards scheme for women, and we like to believe that these awards played a small but significant part in recognising our outstanding sportswomen and helping women’s sports develop and prosper.
"That growth, which continues at a remarkable pace, really knows no bounds. I would hazard a guess that whoever is up here in 15 years will be saying much the same thing and, who knows, may also be the first female sports editor of The Irish Times. Now that would be progress.
“But back to today and the people we are honouring. Their exploits in 2018 across the world have been thrilling and provided some of the most sublime moments in sport over the past 12 months, male or female.
"Their great victories have rightly graced the front pages of newspapers and featured on radio and TV news bulletins, but women's sport still needs more consistent coverage from the media, including The Irish Times, if it is to drive home the message that every talented girl has as much chance of making it to the top in sport as boys have.
“That is not the case now and that is one of the biggest challenges for the months and years ahead. For now, let’s enjoy the rest of the day as we relive some of the great moments of 2018 and hear from those who provided them.”
Logan also acknowledged the judging panel of Mary Hannigan (The Irish Times), Lindie Naughton (Evening Herald), Greg Allen (RTÉ) and Cliona Foley who "are always fair and balanced in their deliberations".
The gender gap in sport, between men's and women's participation, has closed, from 16 per cent to 4.5 per cent
Also commenting on that changing landscape of women's sport was Minister for Tourism and Sport Shane Ross, who pointed out that Ireland's sportswomen had made a hugely significant contribution to the country's sporting success during 2018: of the 74 championship medals won by Irish sports men and women in 2018, 44 were won by women, across 11 different sports.
“It has been a truly remarkable year for Irish women in sport,” said Ross. “And of those 44 medal winners, 19 were in senior events, and 25 were in junior events, which also proves the future looks bright too. I am also happy to point out that the gender gap in sport, between men’s and women’s participation, has closed, from 16 per cent to 4.5 per cent.”
Kieran Mulvey, chairman of Sport Ireland, also congratulated all the award winners and thanked them for being such fantastic ambassadors for both their sport and their country.
“The success of Irish women in sport is improving every year, and I think it’s fair to say we have never had a year like 2018,” said Mulvey. “And across such a multitude of sports too. Of the 70 medals won on the world and European stage in 2018, 60 per cent were won by women, and with facilities improving all the time, especially the Sport Ireland Campus at Abbotstown, we are well set to perform nationally and internationally into 2019 and beyond.”
Our elite athletes continue to grow from strength to strength, inspiring the next generation to get out and get active
Among those present were two world champions in athletics, Sonia O’Sullivan, gold medallist in Helsinki in 1995, and race walker Olive Loughnane, who won gold in Berlin in 2009, and also Olympic silver medallist from Rio 2016, sailor Annalise Murphy, the outright women’s award winner in 2016.
Also present were 1956 1,500m Olympic gold medallist Ronnie Delany, and John Treacy, silver medal winner in the 1984 Olympic marathon, and now chief executive of Sport Ireland.
“Our elite athletes continue to grow from strength to strength,” said Treacy, “inspiring the next generation to get out and get active. The number of women taking part in sport has increased in recent years, as evident in the most recent Irish Sports Monitor report, which also shows that the gender gap in participation is the narrowest it has ever been. This is not only a positive for Irish sport, but for Irish society as a whole.
“To continue the success story of Irish women in sport, Sport Ireland will continue to develop, foster and promote women’s sport through the work of national governing bodies and the network of local sport partnerships. I would like to congratulate every one of today’s award recipients; you have all been fantastic ambassadors for both your sport and your country, leaving us all with many fond memories from 2018.”