Sportswoman of the Year nominees: September to November
There are five nominees in this group due to joint winners in September and October
Kellie Harrington, Sinéad Aherne, Katie Taylor, Rachael Blackmore and Sanita Puspure.
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 September, October and November.
September (joint award)
Sanita Puspure (Rowing)
Until she travelled to Bulgaria for September’s World Championships, Puspure would have been forgiven for believing it just was never going to be for her. After almost a decade of representing Ireland in the event, she had no medals to show for her efforts. Twice she had finished agonisingly fourth and while being 36 doesn’t preclude you from success in rowing, there had to have been a feeling that she was running out of opportunities.
Her joy, then, was unconfined when she not only medalled in the single sculls final, she won gold. “Finally! Finally! My first medal and it is gold! I’m so used to being disappointed and not being happy after racing, so this is very new to me,” she said after winning by a stretch of clear water in difficult windy conditions. Her husband, she said, likened her to a fine wine, “getting old and getting better”. No sooner was that medal placed around her neck that her thoughts were turning to Tokyo 2020. MH
Sinéad Aherne (Gaelic football)
Aherne is another of our monthly award winners from 2018 who would have needed an extension to her mantelpiece come the end of the year, so much silverware did she amass. In her 15th year playing for her county, having made her senior debut when she was just 17, she captained them to their first ever league title back in May, contributing 1-9 to their winning score over Mayo.
And the St Sylvester’s forward took her exceptional form in to the championship, finishing the campaign with a tally of 5-31, 1-7 coming in the All-Ireland final when she led Dublin to their second successive title with their first ever victory over Cork in the final. Aherne finished the year by collecting her seventh All Star and being named Players’ Player of the Year, having been nominated for that honour three years running. MH
October (joint award)
Katie Taylor (Boxing)
A flawless year for Taylor during which she brought her professional record to 12-0, winning her four fights in New York, London, Boston and, earlier this month, back in New York where she comprehensively beat Eva Wahlstrom at Madison Square Garden, all three judges scoring the contest 100-90.
In the first of her New York bouts, against Argentina’s Victoria Bustos back in April, she added the IBF Lightweight title to the WBA belt she had won the year before, going on to defend both successfully against Kimberley Connor of the US, Puerto Rico’s Cindy Serrano and Finland’s Wahlstrom. Her target for 2019 is to unify the lightweight division, with Belgium’s Delfine Persoon and Brazil’s Rose Volante, the WBC and WBO champions respectively, in her sights. Taylor was also the subject of one of the year’s outstanding sports documentaries made by director Ross Whitaker. MH
Rachael Blackmore (Horse racing)
There’s every chance we are under-rating what Rachael Blackmore is achieving this season. The Tipperary jockey is competing at a level that no female jockey has ever reached before. Before this year, the record for winners by a woman in a National Hunt season was Nina Carberry’s 39. With just 4½ months still to go in the 2018/19 season, Blackmore is already on 67. Wherever she ends up, she will have posted numbers that were unimaginable before she came along.
She is battling tooth and nail with Paul Townend and Davy Russell for the Irish jockeys’ championship. an achievement in itself given that Townend and Russell are backed in the main by the Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott yards respectively. As of today, Blackmore has ridden one winner apiece for the two biggest yards in the game. To be in the mix without the patronage of either of them is a monumental feat. Blackmore’s association with Henry De Bromhead and Gigginstown has propelled her into the big time and she has proved a major asset to both operations. If she remains injury-free, she will go very close to being champion jockey. Imagine. MC
Kellie Harrington (Boxing)
Where to begin with Kellie Harrington’s year? In a massive year for Irish sportswomen, she is one of four newly-crowned world champions on this page. Ireland have only ever had three world champions in amateur boxing – Harrington, Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor. In beating Thai boxer Sudaporn Seesondee in India in November, Harrington became the first Irish boxer to win a World Championship medal at two different weights.
Were that all she had done in 2018, it would have been plenty. But Harrington’s November was essentially the icing on an already very sweet cake. In June, she took bronze at the European Championships in Bulgaria, only missing out on the final in a split decision against former world and Olympic medallist Mira Potkonen. All of this came after she began the year by winning the Irish senior title in February, beating Amy Broadhurst in the final.
Harrington, who turned 29 last week, is exactly where she wants to be with Tokyo coming up in two years. She has dropped down a weight to box at the Olympics and already has a world title to show for it. An incredible year for one of the true good news stories in Irish sport. MC