It must be a sign of the times when a sportswoman awards seem less about the women and all about the awards. Not that long ago it might have been the other way round.
Such has been the recent progress in both the achievement and recognition of women's sport, especially in Ireland – reflected in the 14th staging of The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year Awards for 2016.
Because while horse trainer Jessica Harrington was named outright winner, all 12 monthly winners – 15 nominees in total – made an equal impression on the ever-widening landscape of women's sport during the year entirely on their own merits, and entirely irrelevant of gender.
In opening the awards lunch at Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel, Malachy Logan, sports editor of The Irish Times, made that exact point, how far women in Irish sport have come and how each monthly winner "raises the bar" for all.
“Each year seems to surpass the previous one in terms of achievement and impact by our monthly winners,” he said. “Today we are celebrating success in 12 different sports over the past year, a great endorsement of that ever-widening world of women’s sport.
"While accepting that women's sport still needs more funding, greater participation levels and wider support, particularly by the media, including The Irish Times, it is appropriate today to acknowledge the huge advances that continue to be made.
"Who would have believed a few years ago that the All-Ireland women's final could attract an attendance of 47,000 or that a boxing bill in London would be headlined by a women's bout, even if it is the inimitable Katie Taylor, or that Ireland could stage a hugely successful Rugby World Cup. These are remarkable milestones in women's sport and the ripple effect from them will be felt for years to come.
“Constant comparisons with male sport serves no real purpose. Women’s sport stands on its own and should be encouraged, enjoyed and held up to scrutiny on its own merits. The heroes of women’s sports – past and present – are rightly acknowledged for overcoming personal challenges, squeezing out great performances under intense pressure and winning at the highest level. The dedication, skills and ability to perform on national and international stages is not defined by gender, and never should be.
“They are also a great endorsement of the work Sport Ireland puts into women’s sport. John Treacy, his board and staff deserve our admiration for their commitment, vision and funding of sports at so many levels.”
Logan also acknowledged the judging panel of Mary Hannigan (The Irish Times), Lindie Naughton (The Evening Herald), Greg Allen (RTÉ) and Cliona Foley who "are always fair and balanced in their deliberations".
Also commenting on that changing landscape of women’s sport was Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin, who pointed out that Ireland’s sportswomen had made a hugely significant contribution to the country’s sporting success during 2017, but that the Government doesn’t look specifically at gender when making decisions around sport.
“For me as Minister, it’s an absolute privilege to be her among so many sports stars, past and present,” he said. “It is one of the really positive parts of my job, that I get to attend events like this, and meet some of my sporting heroes.
“But I think when the Taoiseach talks about the Republic of opportunity, what he expects from me as his sports minister, is to ensure that every citizen, regardless of their gender, their location, their ethnicity, or their circumstances, has the best possible opportunity to be the very best at the sports they love.
“That is very much how I see my role, and that is very much what I am committed to doing as sports minister, working with the agencies like Sport Ireland, who are doing fantastic work, and the National Governing Bodies as well.
“Over the course of the last 12 months, Ireland’s sportswomen have given us many wonderful memories and produced some spectacular performances which have captured the imagination of the country.
"Their continued success serves to inspire our children and young people and to enhance Ireland's reputation abroad. I would like to acknowledge Sport Ireland and The Irish Times for staging these awards which recognise the incredible contribution of Irish women in sport.
Chairman of Sport Ireland, Kieran Mulvey, also congratulated all the award winners and thanked them for being such fantastic ambassadors for both their sport and their country.
“Their performances at national, international, European and World events showcased the very best of Irish sporting talent,” he said. “Events such as these demonstrate that Irish athletes continue to achieve at the very highest level. We had 68 medal winners this year, between men and women, in a multiplicity of sport, and we hope that success will continue.
“And I’d also like to complement the tremendous women we have in sports administration and at the head of organisations in Ireland. It’s one of the areas I have noticed in the last 10 years, that more and more excellent women are coming to the top in administration of sport, and I think that’s an important development for the future.
"Sport Ireland is delighted to again partner with The Irish Times for the 2017 Sportswoman of the Year Awards, which acknowledge and pay tribute to 15 athletes who have risen to the very top of their chosen sport."
Also present were Olympic silver medallists Sonia O'Sullivan and Annalise Murphy, last year's outright winner, as well as 1956 Olympic gold medal winner Ronnie Delany, and Sport Ireland chief executive John Treacy, also an Olympic silver medal winner.
The Irish Times was also represented by manager director Liam Kavanagh, and representing some of the national governing bodies of sport were Georgina Drumm, president of Athletics Ireland, and Sarah Keane, chief executive of Swim Ireland and president of the Olympic Council of Ireland.