Amy Hunter named Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman for October

16-year-old’s record-breaking century sees her take the award in another busy month

Amy Hunter has been named Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman for October. Photograph: Rowland White/Inpho

After what has been an exceedingly taxing year for our judging panel, with impossibly lengthy shortlists for just about every monthly award, there was the hope that with 2021 beginning to wind down, October might prove a little less challenging.

So much for that.

We had the Irish football team helping themselves to, perhaps, their greatest ever away victory, when they beat Finland in that World Cup qualifying game. We had the Irish hockey team qualifying for successive World Cups for the first time ever. We had Emma Slevin becoming the first Irish gymnast to qualify for the all-around finals of the world championships.

Was that it? No.


We had Jenny Egan finishing her season on top of the K1 5000m world rankings after earlier winning silver at both a World Cup race in Russia and the Canoe Sprint World Championships in Denmark. We had cyclists Kelly Murphy, Emily Kay, Mia Griffin and Alice Sharpe winning Ireland’s first ever medal in the team pursuit at the European Track Championships, when they took bronze. And then there was Imogen Cotter’s epic road race victory at the national championships. Oh, not to forget Knockmore ending Carnacon’s 21-year reign as Mayo Gaelic football champions.

Apart from that, it was quiet enough.

So, yet again, our sportswomen combined to make it an intolerably tricky set of deliberations, as they have persisted in doing all year.

In the end, though, it proved too hard to resist the historic achievement of Amy Hunter in becoming the youngest ever player, male or female, to score a one-day international century. And on of all days, she did it on her 16th birthday, hitting an unbeaten 121 for Ireland against Zimbabwe in Harare, off just 127 balls.

The Methodist College student had only made her Irish debut back in May, against Scotland in Belfast, but this was her first one-day international series, and she struggled with the bat in the opening three games, failing to reach double figures each time.

Come the final game of the series, though, the runs flowed, eight boundaries helping Hunter on her way to the highest score ever by an Irish woman in a one day match. She reached her century in style, hitting another boundary through the leg side, although she conceded after that she wasn’t quite sure how to mark the milestone. “It was a bit surreal,” she said. “I didn’t know whether to take the helmet off, or leave it on.”

Her knock helped Ireland to complete a 3-1 series win, a morale booster ahead of their return to Zimbabwe later this month for the World Cup qualifiers.

Hunter, a wicketkeeper who is also a more than useful hockey player, has ambitions to play cricket professionally. If she keep batting like that, she won’t be short of offers.

Previous monthly winners (the awards run from December 2020 to November 2021, inclusive):

December: Aoife Doyle (Camogie) and Sinead Goldrick (Gaelic football). The pair were both chosen as the player of the match in their respective All Ireland finals, Doyle's display in the Kilkenny attack against Galway helping her county end a run of three successive final defeats, while an outstanding performance against Cork by Goldrick was a major factor in Dublin completing a four-in-a-row.

January: Nadia Power (Athletics). The Dubliner enjoyed a terrific start to the year, setting a new Irish 800m indoor record and knocking another two seconds off the mark a fortnight later, her form ultimately earning her a place on the Olympic team for the 800m. Tokyo, though, proved a bridge too far, Power bowing out in her heat, but she'll take huge encouragement from her 2021 form.

February: Rachael Blackmore (Horse racing). Now back in action after fracturing her ankle in a fall at Killarney in July, Blackmore's 2021 had been a magical one until then, the highlights her historic Aintree Grand National triumph and her six winners at Cheltenham that earned her the festival's leading jockey award. And she finished runner-up in the Irish jockeys championship with 92 winners.

March: Leona Maguire (Golf). Even before her remarkable Solheim Cup performances, having become the first Irish woman to represent Europe in the event, Maguire had already enjoyed an outstanding year on the LPGA Tour, ten top-16 finishes and five top-10s, including two runners-up spots, moving her inside the world's top fifty.

April: Orla O'Dwyer (Australian Rules). O'Dwyer became just the second Irish woman to win the Aussie Rules AFLW Premiership title when she was part of the Brisbane Lions team that beat Adelaide Crows in April's Grand Final. One of the country's most gifted dual players, she returned home to play in both the camogie and football All Ireland championships for Tipperary, reaching the camogie semi-finals.

May: Katie Taylor (Boxing). Taylor retained her WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO lightweight titles with one of the grittiest displays of her career when she fought England's Natasha Jonas. That win took her professional record to 18-0 - she made it 19-0 in September when she defended her titles with a unanimous points decision over Jennifer Han in Leeds.

June: Kellie Harrington (Boxing). Even before she set sail for Tokyo Harrington had made our list of monthly award winners by triumphing at the Olympic qualifier in Paris, beating reigning IBF super featherweight world champion Maiva Hamadouche in the quarter-finals before getting the better of Britain's Caroline Dubois in the final. Once she got to Japan? Pure gold.

July: Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty (Rowing). The quartet won Ireland's first medal of the Olympic Games when they produced a stirring effort in the women's four final to come back from fifth in the race around the 1,000 metre mark to power through the final 1,000m, finishing in third behind world champions Australia and European champions the Netherlands.

August: Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal (Cycling) and Ellen Keane (Swimming). The trio had golden experiences at the Paralympics, Keane winning a thriller of a 100m breaststroke final when she recorded a personal best to hold off New Zealand's Sophie Pascoe, while Dunlevy and McCrystal helped themselves to three medals in the space of one gruelling week, beginning with silver in the individual pursuit and then double gold, in the tandem time trial and then the road race.

September: Vikki Wall (Gaelic football). The 23-year-old’s display for Meath in the All Ireland final, for which she was named player of the match, was a major factor in her county’s stunning victory over the five-in-a-row-seeking Dublin team. The 2020 Intermediate player of the year is now nominated, alongside team-mates Emma Duggan and Emma Troy, for the senior player of the year award, as well as for an All Star. As years go, 2021 was just about perfect.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times