Taylor sets an exceptional standard as Sportswoman of the Year
Boxer a cut above the rest but awards are a celebration of all our top women athletes
This year Katie Taylor stood above the rest but The Irish Times/Irish Sports Council Sportswoman of the Year ceremony was about all of the women across a multiple of disciplines who made their mark this year.
It was about celebration as much as winners and losers and while all of the 15 nominations (some months had dual winners) won individual monthly awards, it was a day to stand back and admire the athletes, some of whom eclipse their male counterparts in what they have achieved.
“Our female athletes have achieved distinction and fame over the last 12 months, not alone for their prowess and talent but for the grace and dignity with which they have performed their sporting endeavours and responded to their myriad of successes,” said Kieran Mulvey, chairman of the Irish Sports Council.
Mulvey added that the Council hopes to attract an additional 77,000 women across 20 sports next year.
It has been 10 years since jockey Cathy Gannon won the inaugural prize and from that first year there has been a decade of growth of high achieving women across all sports.
This year’s nominations included the French-based footballer Stephanie Roche, whose terrific goal, which went viral on You Tube, is in the running for the Puskás Award, Fifa’s Goal of the Year.
Dublin City Marathon winner Maria McCambridge collected her award for October, with the 39-year-old defying the years and now heading for Rio. Rugby player Niamh Briggs had a prolific Six Nations Championship and followed it up in the World Cup in France with a semi-final place with the Irish team and a nomination for the IRB World Player of the Year Award.
Savannah McCarthy, who starred in the U19 European Football Championships, earned the April award. Sanita Puspure, a bronze medal winner in the single sculls and fourth in the World Championships, ahead of every other European rower, was the May winner.
“All year they have thrilled us with their displays, whether as individuals or part of a team,” said Irish Times editor Kevin O’Sullivan.
“Many of these performances have taken place across the globe, from Katie Taylor equalling a record fifth world title in Jeju in South Korea, to Stephanie Meadow battling for the US Women’s Open golf title at the famous Pinehurst course, to the Irish women’s rugby team beating the supposedly unbeatable All Blacks team en route to the World Cup semi-final, a feat, I should add, that has never been achieved by the men’s team.”
The event also recognises some of the trailblazers from past years, when women had to be single minded strong personalities and unafraid of pushing their way into the male enclosures.
Hockey player and Olympic sprinter Maeve Kyle, Olympic champion Mary Peters, and racing driver Rosemary Smith were previous winners, and this year’s Lifetime Achievement award went to the former jockey and now horse trainer Joanna Morgan.
“They were sceptical at the start,” she said about starting out as a jockey in the male dominated sport. “They thought I might knock them down or something.”
Undeterred, she went on to earn some fame at the time when she beat the great Lester Piggott in a race. “It was a big thing. It was in the papers and everything,” she said. “Lester Piggott was an icon at that time.
“You’d have to get changed in a tent or a caravan. But I loved riding and really, everyone was so good to me. Nina [Carberry] is fantastic and Katie [Walsh] – the way she ran the national [to finish third on Seabass] was fantastic.
“I think all sportswomen are tough. As a woman, you definitely have to be more tough to prove yourself.”
Shift in attitude
Tánaiste Joan Burton also attended the awards ceremony in Dublin and pointed to a shift in attitude among school children.
“I was in Armagh in The Royal School when the bid for the Rugby World Cup was launched and it was just as much a thing with the girls as with the boys,” she said.
“Everyone has shared a You Tube moment with Stephanie Roche and her goal and the whole country celebrated Katie Taylor’s gold medal. I think for Irish women it is fantastic to see the profile develop in recent years.”
Basketball’s Gráinne Dwyer earned her nomination by winning the MVP at the Superleague National Cup final, when she drove UL Huskies to victory over Team Montenotte, Glanmire.