Ellen Walshe named Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman for December

Swimmer first monthly winner of the year as 2022 follows the trend and starts with a bang

Ellen Walshe celebrates after winning silver in Abu Dhabi. Photograph: Andrea Staccioli/Inpho

Ellen Walshe celebrates after winning silver in Abu Dhabi. Photograph: Andrea Staccioli/Inpho

 

We spent a fair old chunk of 2021 moaning about having too many contenders for each and every monthly award in what proved to be the most remarkable of years for our sportswomen. The judges, though, were hopeful that December, which kickstarts our 2022 awards, would prove to be uneventful enough, giving them a stress-free end to the year.

So much for that.

A flavour: Rachael Blackmore, fresh from collecting just about every award on offer, including theRTÉ Sportsperson of the Year, the BBC World Sport Star of the Year and, most importantly of course, our own Sportswoman of the Year for 2021, was at it again, winning another big Grade One race on Envoi Allen at Leopardstown.

Katie Taylor, meanwhile, brought her professional record to 20-0 with a unanimous points victory over Firuza Sharipova in Liverpool.

Fionnuala McCormack knocked three minutes off her lifetime best to finish fifth in the Valencia Marathon, moving her within just over a minute of Catherina McKiernan’s 23-year-old Irish record. And a week later she was competing in her 17th European Cross-Country championships, registering yet another top 10 placing when she finished ninth.

In Gaelic Games, Dunboyne’s All Ireland-winning Meath contingent, among them player of the year Vikki Wall and Emma Duggan, made their 2021 nigh on perfect when they helped the club to its first ever Leinster Senior title, beating the seven-in-a-row-seeking Foxrock/Cabinteely.

And then there was Una Leacy’s outstanding display for Oulart The Ballagh in their All-Ireland Senior Camogie Club final victory over Sarsfields, her hat-trick helping them to victory in what was the delayed 2020 final.

Remember when December used to be a relatively quiet month?

There was a temptation to toss a coin in the end, especially when it came to trying to divide Ellen Walshe and Mona McSharry for their performances at the World Short Course Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi.

McSharry’s week was exceptional, the Sligo swimmer winning bronze in the 100m breaststroke, reaching three finals in all and setting eight new Irish records.

Walshe, though, just shaded the decision after becoming the first Irish woman to medal - silver in the 400m Individual Medley - at a World Championships and the first ever in an Olympic event.

Along the way, the 20-year-old Dubliner, a college-mate of McSharry at the University of Tennessee, broke five Irish records, smashing the longest standing one, Michelle Smith’s 1994 400m Individual Medley mark.

Her achievements were all the more impressive because, as she told Cathal Dennehy last month, it was only a year ago that she suffered a spinal contusion, an injury that disrupted her training for more than two months.

On her return, though, she qualified for the Olympics, finding the form of her life, among the records she broke Grainne Murphy’s 2009 200m Individual Medley time, having already become the first Irish woman to break one minute for the 100m butterfly the year before.

Walshe is, then, our first monthly winner in the 19th year of these awards, a brand new name for our list. If December has set the tone for the months to come, this year might just rival a remarkable 2021.

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