Jessica Harrington and Chloe Magee share Sportswoman of the Month award
Trainer claimed Cheltenham Gold Cup and Irish Grand National while Magee made Irish badminton history
We’ve had plenty of joint monthly awards over the years featuring women from wildly different sporting disciplines, but perhaps never as dissimilar as our April 2017 winners.
True, Jessica Harrington was the last Irish competitor to achieve a top three finish at Badminton, back in her eventing days, and Chloe Magee is the first Irish woman to have won a European Championship medal in badminton, but when it comes to stretching it, that “link” possibly beats all.
What the two women do have in common, though, is that in recent weeks they have enjoyed the greatest successes of their careers, Harrington training the winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Irish Grand National and Punchestown Gold Cup, Magee teaming up with her brother Sam to achieve a lifetime ambition, winning a medal at a major international event.
It was back in 2010 that Harrington was added to the Sportswoman of Year Hall of Fame, her name now on a roll of honour that is completed by Irish sporting legends Mary Peters, Anne and Angela Downey, Mary McKenna, Maeve Kyle, Rosemary Smith, Joanna Morgan, Catherina McKiernan and Sonia O’Sullivan.
By and large, though, when you’re inducted in to a Hall of Fame it’s an indication your competitive sporting days are over, that it’s a celebration of past achievements rather than an anticipation of more to come. And with Harrington being 63 at the time, it might have been a reasonable assumption that she was, at least, beginning to wind down.
So much for that. As the trainer put it herself after Robbie Power had ridden Sizing John to victory at both Cheltenham and Punchestown and Our Duke at Fairyhouse in the space of a few weeks, “it’s not bad for a 70-year-old”.
And rather than being content with those achievements, Harrington sees them merely as a couple of ticks on her list of ambitions. “I’ve been second, third and fourth in classics and I’d love to win one. And I’ve never had a Royal Ascot winner. And somewhere along the line I’d love to have a (Aintree) Grand National winner,” she said, so she’s only beginning.
One ambition she came agonisingly close to achieving back in 1984 was representing Ireland at the Olympic Games, her horse going lame when she arrived in Los Angeles, so that was the end of that.
Magee, of course, had the honour of appearing in three Olympic Games, her first at just 19 when she qualified for Beijing, before making it to London 2012 and Rio last summer.
Now 28, the Donegal woman made the decision to focus on mixed doubles rather than singles from this year on, knowing that there was plenty of potential in her partnership with Sam. And that decision was richly rewarded at the European Championships in Denmark when they beat two pairs seeded in the top five en route to securing that bronze medal, making Irish badminton history.
Magee, then, collects her fourth monthly award, her first won in the dim and distant past of 2007, and shares it with a woman 41 years her elder, the irrepressible Harrington.
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 the team will have taken encouragement from their results and their runners-up finish as they prepare for this summer’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.