Bundee Aki named Ireland men’s players’ player of the year

Aoife Wafer doubles up as women players’ player of the year and women’s young player of the year

Bundee Aki has been named as the BDO Ireland Men’s XVs players’ player of the year 2024 by his peers at the Rugby Players Ireland awards. Nominated for both World Rugby player of the year and Six Nations player of the championship, Aki was chosen from a strong shortlist that also included Jamison Gibson-Park and Dan Sheehan.

Having been an ever-present in last year’s Grand Slam campaign, as in 2018, he took his form to a new level for the World Cup, where he played every minute of Ireland’s five games. He backed that up by playing every minute of this season’s Six Nations, bar the round-two game against Italy, as Ireland retained the title.

Before this season Aki had scored 10 tries in 46 Tests. His wonderful try against the All Blacks at the World Cup was his fifth of the tournament and sixth in six games, including the warm-up win over England.

“I’m honoured to be recognised by my fellow Rugby Players Ireland members as their player of the year,” said Aki on receiving the award at a gala banquet in the Clayton Hotel in Dublin. The accolade added to a personal honours list that also includes the award for Rugby Writers’ of Ireland player of the year for 2023.


“It has been bittersweet but when I look back on the season, I won’t think about the results or awards. Instead, I’ll look back with pride at being part of such a resilient group, and the way we bounced back after the disappointment of the Rugby World Cup. Individual awards are fantastic, but this one would not have been possible without Jamison, Dan or any of my Irish or Connacht team-mates for pushing me along.”

Now in his 10th season with the province, Aki is only the second Connacht player to win this award, following Johnny O’Connor in 2011, and that was when the flanker was playing with Wasps.

Aoife Wafer was named as both the Strata Financial Women’s XVs players’ player of the year and Energia Women’s XVs young player of the year. Having returned to international action following a lengthy injury lay-off, the Wexford woman was keen to make up for lost time in an Irish jersey.

Despite being just 21, Wafer emerged as a real leader within the group as they secured a third-place finish and Rugby World Cup qualification. Her outstanding performances in the Irish backrow also saw her nominated for the Six Nations player of the championship award.

“The past few months have been the highlight of my career to date,” said Wafer. “I find it hard to believe given where I was not very long ago. While I was happy with the way I played on a personal level, I really fed off the energy of the wider squad. We are an extremely close group. We back each other on the good days, and especially on the bad. I feel we have turned a big page in our journey this year and I look forward to seeing where we can go together as a team.”

Many of the biggest names in Irish rugby were present at the annual awards banquet. The ceremony was again hosted by Barry Murphy and Andrew Trimble.

Following his retirement, Keith Earls was named as the Zurich contribution to Irish society award winner, while Conor Murray presented former Rugby Players Ireland chairperson Johnny Sexton with a portrait piece on behalf of the players’ association’s membership.

Munster’s brilliant opening try against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium last October, scored by Craig Casey, was the Mercedes-Benz Ballsbridge Men’s XVs try of the year. Leinster lock Joe McCarthy was named as the Nevin Spence Men’s XVs young player of the year ahead of Tom Ahern and last year’s winner Jack Crowley.

Zac Ward was named as the TritonLake Men’s Sevens players’ player of the year 2024, with Megan Burns the TritonLake Women’s Sevens players’ player of the year. Katie Corrigan won the AIB Corporate Banking Women’s XVs try of the year, with Ireland’s Six Nations-winning campaign voted as the Druids Glen Hotel & Golf Resort moment of the year.

Peter O’Mahony, Rugby Players Ireland chairperson: said: “As always, it’s a huge honour to come together and look back on what has been another successful campaign for Irish rugby. While many thought it would be one of transition, I have found that even as players have moved on, we always seem to have somebody ready to step up thanks to the empowering support of the likes of Rugby Players Ireland, who continue to equip our players with the skills to thrive both on and off the field.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times