Ireland’s Paralympics stars named Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswomen for August

Katie-George Dunlevy, Eve McCrystal and Ellen Keane won gold medals in Tokyo

It was only eight days in to August, when Kellie Harrington won her Olympic gold medal, that our judging panel began to despair. It’s not that they weren’t over the moon about her success, they most certainly were, it’s just that the shortlist for the 2021 Sportswoman of the Year award was beginning to look as lengthy as the Nile.

The panel has had plenty of tricky years before in these awards, but this one’s taking the biscuit.

“All we need now,” said one anguished voice, “is for, say, Ellen Keane, Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal to win gold at the Paralympics, Katie Taylor to retain her world titles, Leona Maguire to have an out-of-this-world Solheim Cup and something mad to happen like, dunno, Meath winning the All Ireland.”

The last possibility was greeted with a chuckle, it was that silly, but the point stood.

And then over the next four weeks, Ellen Keane, Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal won gold at the Paralympics, Katie Taylor retained her world titles, Leona Maguire had an out-of-this-world Solheim Cup and the maddest thing happened - Meath won the All Ireland.

At least Meath had the good grace to leave it ‘til September before they engaged in All Ireland-triumphing, and we are indebted, too, to Harrington, Taylor and Maguire for already having won monthly awards this year, meaning they couldn’t win a second - but, of course, their achievements throughout 2021 will be taken in to account when the judges assemble for deliberations that may well last six months.

August, then, was annexed by Keane, after she won a thriller of a 100m breaststroke final, and the mighty Dunlevy and McCrystal, who returned home with a haul of two golds and a silver.

So, with three women already on our podium, there wasn’t room for Nicole Turner, who took silver in the 50 metre butterfly final, nor the likes of 16-year-old Róisín Ní Ríain, who swam four personal bests and reached five finals, and Greta Streimikyte, who missed out on a medal in the 1500m final by just 3.04 seconds. As we told you, 2021 is now in biscuit-taking territory.

Keane, competing in her fourth Games, recorded a personal best to hold off New Zealand’s Sophie Pascoe, a nine-time Paralympic gold medallist, in the final. Pascoe led for three quarters of the race after a blistering start, but the 26-year-old from Clontarf battled back to take the lead in the final 25 metres and just about held on to it in the tightest of finishes. And she did it all with water-filled goggles, too.

Dunlevy and McCrystal, meanwhile, helped themselves to three medals in the space of one gruelling week, beginning with silver in the individual pursuit. And then it was double gold, first in the tandem time trial and then the road race, to add to a collection that already included a Paralympic gold and silver, from Rio, and a mountain of World Championship medals.

A brilliant effort from our three August winners, then, but it’ll pale next to the effort our panel of judges will have to put in to sort 2021 out.

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). Currently on the mend 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 last weekend 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.

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