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Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal share Sportswoman of the Month award

Para-cycling pair follow up Rio success with two golds at World Championships

Ireland’s Katie-George Dunlevy and her pilot Eve McCrystal in action during the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where they won two medals. Photograph: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman Award for August: Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal (Cycling)

When it came to deciding about adding them to our 2017 roll of honour, the only difficulty Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal presented the Sportswomen of the Year panel of judges was which month to choose, the pair weighed down by medals after their efforts so far this year.

Both women were intent on building on their success in Rio last year, when they came home with gold and silver in their luggage, and they’ve more than met their target.

While McCrystal had her own individual goals for 2017, and Dunlevy had medal aspirations too with her other partner Katharine Smyth, as a team their chief aspiration for the year was success at the Para-cycling Road World Championships in South Africa. Their form ahead of that trip ensured they travelled to Pietermaritzburg with confidence high.

By then McCrystal’s August victory in round six of the National Road Series ultimately proved enough for her to seal the title. In all, she won four of the six rounds she competed in and was second in the other two, building up a big enough points lead to secure the title despite being unable to compete in the final round because she was on World Championship duty with Dunlevy.

The Garda CC rider was hardly home from South Africa when she was back in action in the Rás na mBan, her career-best fifth-place finish making her the race’s leading Irish competitor.

Domestic success

Dunlevy, meanwhile, had enjoyed her own domestic success back in June when she teamed up with Smyth to win gold in the para-cycling tandem event at the national championships, the same pairing having already picked up gold and silver at the second round of the World Cup in Belgium the previous month.

It was with McCrystal, though, that Dunlevy enjoyed the bulk of her World Cup success, the pair winning time-trial and road-race gold medals at the opening round in Italy, Dunlevy’s first race of the year, and repeating the feat in the third round in the Netherlands. That made them the series leaders as they headed for South Africa for the main event of the season. “It was as if we were one person on the bike,” said Dunlevy, she and McCrystal working in tandem in every sense of the word.

It was in the time trial at the World Championships that they collected their first gold medal, finishing six seconds clear of the British pair of Lora Fachie and Corrie Hall, doubling their golden haul in the same week in the road race, outsprinting Poland in a bunch finish to take their second world title.

In the end Dunlevy and McCrystal took our August award, but it could have been any month from half a dozen. The year, it’s safe to say, has gone rather well.

Previous monthly winners (awards run from December 2016-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 under-19s before scoring on her debut at senior level. 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, before losing to England in the Grand Slam decider. While August’s World Cup proved to be a disappointment for the team, Fitzpatrick had a pool game to remember against Japan, scoring two tries, the second sealing victory after Ireland had trailed 14-0.

March: Aoife Cassidy (Camogie). Playing alongside her sisters Éilís and Brona, 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.

April: Jessica Harrington (Horse Racing) and Chloe Magee (Badminton). In the space of a month Harrington completed the Triple Crown of Cheltenham’s great championship races, Sizing John winning the Gold Cup to add to her previous successes in the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase – and then she won the Irish Grand National for the first time with Our Duke. Magee, meanwhile, became the first Irish woman to win a European Championship medal in badminton, partnering brother Sam to bronze in the mixed doubles in Denmark.

May: Leona Maguire (Golf). Even before she won the British Amateur Championship in June, Maguire had been added to our 2017 list after an outstanding season with Duke University in North Carolina that earned her multiple awards, including becoming the first player to win the prestigious Annika Award twice. And in August she won the Mark H McCormack Medal, which is awarded to the top amateur golfer in the world, for the third year running.

June: Mona McSharry (Swimming). The Sligo teenager already had a summer to remember when she won two gold medals and a silver at June’s European Junior Championships in Israel, but then in August she headed for Indianapolis where she became the first Irish swimmer to win gold at the World Junior Championships. McSharry broke the national senior record in her 100m breaststroke victory, adding a bronze in the 50m breaststroke to her summer medal haul.

July: Gina Akpe-Moses (Athletics). At just 18 Akpe-Moses, who took up athletics when she joined Dundalk’s St Gerard’s Club at the age of seven, became Ireland’s first European women’s sprint title winner at under-20 to senior level when she won the 100m at the European Under-20 Championships in Italy. Now based in Birmingham, where she’s a member of Birchfield Harriers, her target is to represent Ireland at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.