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Gráinne Dwyer wins Sportswoman of Month award

Tipperary woman helped lead Glanmire to a third successive league/cup double

Glanmire’s Gráinne Dwyer celebrates with Chantell Alford after the National Cup final victory over Courtyard Liffey Celtics at the National Arena in Tallaght. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman Award for January has been won by Glanmire basketball star Gráinne Dwyer.

Even with five National Cup medals now to her name, and three MVP (Most Valuable Player) awards from the last four finals, there’s no danger of the novelty winning wearing off for Dwyer.

“This one honestly felt as good as the first,” she says of Glanmire’s 61-48 victory over Courtyard Liffey Celtics last month.

“I was an emotional wreck after the game, I was in tears – days like this won’t happen too often again for me. I don’t know how many more years I have – I’m not 90, like, but I’m pushing on!”

The Thurles woman has been one of the driving forces behind Glanmire’s unrelenting success in recent years, the Cork club now on course for its third consecutive league and cup double.

That mightn’t quite put them in the same territory just yet as the Cork women’s Gaelic football team, with their 11 All Ireland titles in 12 years, but there are similarities between the two, not least in their ability to keep on winning despite losing key players to retirement.

This season Glanmire lost four stalwarts, Dwyer’s sister Niamh, Miriam Byrne, Amanda O’Regan and Marie Breen, which would have given their rivals cause for hope.

Instead of enduring a trophy-less rebuilding period, though, Glanmire seamlessly brought through teenagers like Jayne Fitzgerald, Louise Scannell and Annalise Murphy – and kept on winning.

“And winning is a mentality,” says Dwyer. “When you look at what that Cork team has done, it’s unbelievable, that will never be achieved again. And even when they lost players like Valerie Mulcahy they were bringing through younger ones who were training alongside her a couple of nights a week, learning from her. Picking up that winning mentality.”

Practice game

“I think of Briege Corkery’s half-time speech to the Cork players last year when they were losing to Dublin. She showed them two photos, one of a dejected Cork player after they’d lost a game, the other of one celebrating winning an All-Ireland, and she asked them which they wanted to be. They went out and won. She’s some woman.”

“So I’d like to think we have some of that about us. I don’t think we take success for granted, but you nearly expect to be there [in finals]. We had so much transition this year but I believed in our team, I knew we had people who were experienced in winning and who know how to win.

“And don’t like losing. I hate even losing a practice game. We played Waterford the week before the Cup and they beat us by four points – we probably deserved to lose by 15. I’ll never forget our dressing room after, people were devastated. I thought ‘good’.”

A week later they won the National Cup.

After a spell with Waterford Wildcats, Dwyer joined Glanmire in 2008 but, she says, she hasn’t applied for a Cork passport just yet.

“I love Cork, it’s my home now, but I’m definitely a Tipp woman – and I don’t think they’d ever accept me in Cork any way with an accent like this. I get so much support from home. I’m even getting phone calls from TDs.

“There was a civic reception for people in sports and arts back home and I got invited to that – I wouldn’t even expect them to know what’s going on in Cork, never mind in basketball. It was lovely.”

At 32 she might be five years older than her next “elderly” team-mate but retirement hasn’t even entered Dwyer’s mind.

“I can’t imagine life without basketball, I found myself when I took it up and it’s been a huge part of my life ever since. I’ll stop playing when I feel like I don’t care any more.”

It’ll be a while yet, so.

Previous monthly winner (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 U-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.