Denise Gaule and Bríd Stack share Sportswoman of month award
Kilkenny camogie star and Cork footballer honoured for their exceptional campaigns
The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman Award for November: Denise Gaule (Camogie) and Bríd Stack (Gaelic football).
A browse through the 2016 All-Star teams of the year in camogie and Gaelic football is a powerful reminder of just how many exceptional players both sports boast.
To be included in the teams means you had a memorable year, but to then be singled out by your peers and voted Players’ Player of the Year means you truly had one you’ll never forget.
And that’s precisely the kind of 2016 Denise Gaule and Bríd Stack enjoyed.
Seven years after she was voted Young Player of the Year, Gaule collected the senior award following a hugely successful year in which she helped Kilkenny win the National League in May and then, for the first time in 22 years, the senior All-Ireland title in September.
A prolific scorer for her county all year, her nine points helping Kilkenny get the better of Galway in an epic semi-final that went to extra-time, Gaule was typically unerring from frees in the final, scoring seven out of seven.
She also made a major contribution to the team effort in her free role against defending champions Cork in the final.
She won her first All-Star at right half-forward on the team of the year, but such was the amount of ground she covered in the final, often helping out in the centre as a third midfielder, she could have won it for nigh-on any position.
While Gaule earned her first All-Star, Cork football full-back Bríd Stack collected her seventh after a year in which she too ended up with National League and All-Ireland winning medals.
Remarkably, Stack has played in every minute of Cork’s 11 All-Ireland triumphs in the last 12 years, the latest against Dublin in front of a crowd of 34,445 at Croke Park, the highest attendance ever for a women’s football final.
Whenever she was asked in the past who her toughest opponent was, Stack always named the legend that is Cora Staunton.
The feeling is evidently mutual, the Mayo star casting her Player of the Year vote this year for the Cork woman.
Both Stack and Gaule talked of their pride in being chosen as Players of the Year by their peers, there being no better judges. So as a salute to the outstanding year they both produced, we’ll take the guidance of those peers and add them to our 2016 roll of honour.
And that roll of honour is now complete, the sports of athletics, basketball, horse racing, gymnastics, boxing, golf, canoeing, sailing, cycling, camogie and Gaelic football represented by 16 women.
Now for the tricky task of narrowing the list down to one for the 2016 Sportswoman of the Year award.
Previous monthly winners (awards run from December 2015 to November 2016, inclusive).
December: Fionnuala McCormack (Athletics). The 2011 and 2012 European Cross Country gold medallist just missed out on another individual medal at the 2015 Championships in France, finishing fourth, but led the Irish team to bronze for the second successive year. McCormack went on to run a personal best to finish 20th in the Olympic marathon.
January: Áine McKenna (Basketball). The Kerry woman won the Most Valuable Player award for her performance in the National Cup final when she captained Glanmire club Team Montenotte in their outstanding 96-64 victory over Killester. Their victory gave them a three-in-a-row and a record sixth success in the competition.
February: Ciara Mageean (Athletics). After a hugely promising junior career, the 24-year-old runner from Portaferry, Co Down was blighted with injuries, but she came back in style in 2016, breaking the Irish 1,500m and mile indoor records in February, before going on to win bronze in the 1,500m at the European Championships in July.
March: Nina Carberry (Horse Racing). Our 2011 Sportswoman of the Year won the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham on the Enda Bolger-trained On The Fringe for the second year running, making it three victories in the race in all, and six career victories at The Festival.
April: Ellis O’Reilly (Gymnastics). The 18-year-old created sporting history in 2016 when she became the first woman to represent Ireland in gymnastics at the Olympic Games.
May: Kellie Harrington (Boxing). When the Dubliner set off for Kazakhstan back in May to compete in her first ever World Championships she was unseeded and had little international experience behind her. She was, she said, a “nobody”. When she returned home she had a silver medal around her neck.
June: Leona Maguire, Olivia Mehaffey and Maria Dunne (Golf). Between them, the Irish trio – with their partners in the foursomes and fourballs and in the singles – contributed 9.5 of the winning total of 11.5 points that gave Britain and Ireland only its second Curtis Cup success in a decade when they beat the United States at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club.
July: Jenny Egan (Canoeing). The disappointment of narrowly missing out on Olympic qualification for the second Games running didn’t stop Egan from having a successful summer, the highlights coming in Portugal and the Czech Republic where she won gold and silver World Cup medals.
August: Annalise Murphy (Sailing). It might have taken four years, but the pain of just missing out on a medal at London 2012 was banished by the Dubliner on Guanabara Bay in Rio when she won silver after the final race of the women’s Laser Radial.
September: Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal (Cycling). The pair, who only raced together for the first time in April 2014, enjoyed a hugely successful Paralympics in Rio, winning silver in the Road Race and gold in the Road Time Trial.
October: Laura Graham (Athletics). The 30-year-old from Kilkeel in Co Down was the first Irish woman home in the Dublin City Marathon, winning her the title of National Champion. Remarkably, it was only her sixth ever marathon.