For many reasons 2021 will be remembered as the year of women in Irish sport. That was borne out by recent findings in the Teneo Sport and Sponsorship Index (TSSI), which listed Katie Taylor and Kellie Harrington as joint most admired Irish athletes.
The two female boxers each polled 16 per cent to scale the list, while Harrington’s win at the Tokyo Olympic Games last summer was seen as the nation’s greatest achievement with 20 per cent of the 1,000 people surveyed.
The poll, which was conducted among male and female candidates who were not necessarily fans of sport, voted women into three of the top five achievements. Taylor and Harrington were joined by Grand National-winning jockey Rachael Blackmore, who scored 9 per cent.
Taylor defended her unified world lightweight titles while Harrington emulated her by winning an Olympic lightweight gold medal in Tokyo. As well as winning the Aintree Grand National, Blackmore also took the Champion Jockey prize at the Cheltenham Festival.
Ireland rugby captain Jonathan Sexton came joint third in the poll on 9 percent alongside Blackmore, with Olympic gold medal rower Paul O’Donovan, Paralympian Ellen Keane, rugby player Tadhg Furlong and Ireland soccer captain Katie McCabe sharing fifth spot on 4 per cent.
Soccer is also back at the top as Ireland’s favourite sport along with Gaelic Games with both drawing 16 per cent of the votes. It had topped the poll for the first eight years of the TSSI before being dislodged by Gaelic Games (men’s and women’s football, hurling and camogie) in 2018. Not surprisingly, the country’s big three field sports have long dominated the category with rugby filling out the top three with 14 per cent of the vote.
Tennis once again takes fourth spot, though last year it shared this with cycling, which has dropped out of the top five, with athletics, basketball, golf, horse racing and triathlon sitting in joint fifth with 3 per cent of the vote each.
Looking towards next year, people are looking forward to several world events. Even though Ireland is not taking part in World Cup 2022 in Qatar, 26 per cent of those polled said it was the thing they were anticipating most.
But rugby and the Six Nations Championship, one of the first big events in a busy 12 months, is the event Irish people are most looking forward to and polled tops with 29 per cent of the vote.
The GAA’s senior hurling and football championships are next on the list at 12 per cent and nine per cent respectively. If all four Gaelic Games All-Ireland championships are gathered together, men’s and women’s football, hurling and camogie, they get 30 per cent of the vote (camogie 6 per cent, ladies football 3 per cent).
Other strong performers in the category are the Cheltenham Festival at 7 per cent and golf’s Irish Open scoring 6 per cent.
Team Ireland took home two gold medals in rowing and boxing and two bronze medals from the same sports (although in rowing the women’s four each won a bronze) in the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, more than enough to see them voted team of the year with 24 per cent of the vote.