Sportswoman of the Year nominees: March to May
Katie Walsh, Leona Maguire and Natalya Coyle are the three up for nomination
Leona Maguire, Natalya Coyle and Rachael Blackmore make up this trio of nominees.
Four World champions, World Cup finalists, the fastest Irish woman of all time, the fastest Under-18 1,500m runner in the world, Ireland’s first ever medal winner in an individual modern pentathlon World Cup event, and that’s just for starters.
It’s no cliché to say it’s been another wonderful year for Irish sport and especially Irish sporting women, the only problem with that being who is named the one outstanding achiever – the Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year for 2018, to be revealed at the awards luncheon in Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel on Friday.
It will bring together 10 individual monthly winners, and four joint-winners, from the previous 12 months; and across 10 different sports too, the only certainty being these awards, now in their 15th year, have never before celebrated such a high level of success and achievement.
Here we look at March, April and May.
Katie Walsh (Horse racing)
Having made a huge splash winning two races at the 2010 Cheltenham festival, Katie Walsh had to wait another eight years for her third. When it came, it came from the clouds, with Walsh steering the Willie Mullins-trained Relegate from the back of the field in the Champion Bumper to touch off long-time leader Carefully Selected on the line.
It turned out to be her last ever Cheltenham winner as she announced her retirement at the following month’s Punchestown festival. In doing so, she brought the curtain down on one of the great careers by any Irish sportswoman. Walsh won races in Ireland, the UK, France and Australia, and along with sister-in-law Nina Carberry, she brought about a massive change in attitudes to female riders within the sport.
Fittingly, she went out on a winner at Punchestown, battling to the line to take a novice hurdle by a nose on another Mullins horse, Antey. MC
Leona Maguire (Golf)
The Cavan golfer only turned 24 in November, but she won her first monthly award as far back as 2007, a reminder of just how young she and her twin sister Lisa were when they first burst on the golfing scene. Eleven years on, Leona turned professional after completing what was a richly successful amateur career on graduating with a degree in psychology from Duke University in North Carolina.
We would need a supplement to list her achievements even in the closing months of that career, ranging from breaking the record for the longest streak at the top of the world amateur rankings (131 weeks) to finishing her time with Duke with the best scoring average (70.93) in division one golf history. She was showered with awards, including a lifetime achievement honour from Duke. Her pro career, which began with six successive rounds in the 60s, will be a career worth monitoring. MH
Natalya Coyle (Modern pentathlon)
For all the strides she had made over the years in this nichest of niche sports, Natalya Coyle was still without the medal to push her into the top layer of modern pentathlon. Having two top-10 finishes in Olympics in London and Rio to her name showed she was up there, but until this year she never had the silverware she craved. That all changed with her second-place finish in a World Cup event in Bulgaria in May.
Coyle’s story has been one of inch-by-inch improvement over the years. Modern pentathlon is a lonely sport that remains a puzzle most sports followers can’t bring themselves to engage with. Her fencing and swimming have come on in leaps and bounds since Rio and at this rate of constant improvement, the 27-year-old has to be thinking of a medal in Tokyo in 2020. Her silver medal in Sofia could even have been one better, only for a shooting mistake on the third lap of the final event. But she has crossed a significant Rubicon now nonetheless. The sky’s the limit from here on. MC