Twelve-year-old twins prove worthy winners

 

Irish Times/Vhi Healthcare Sportswoman Award for May: Lisa and Leona Maguire (Golf):When the judges reviewed the month of May and picked out the leading Irish performers in women's sport three of our usual suspects made our shortlist once again, Cora Staunton, Katie Taylor and Jessica Kurten, all winners of monthly awards in previous years.

Golfer Karen Delaney also made herself a serious contender by winning the Irish Close Amateur Championship for the first time.

Staunton scored nine points in Mayo's National Football League final win over Galway, while Taylor, who was also in action for the Republic of Ireland football team in May, was named boxer of the tournament at the Ahmet Comet Cup in Turkey.

Curiously, having had her Turkish opponent on the floor six times during the final, Taylor lost the judges' vote and had to settle for silver. But we're saying nothing.

Kurten, meanwhile, after a quiet start to the year, was back to winning ways at Europe's richest Grand Prix at La Baule, France.

Strong contenders, all, but it was the performance of Cavan twins Lisa and Leona Maguire at the Irish Close in Lahinch that proved to be the sporting story of the month, one that, ultimately, swayed the judges' vote their way.

Lisa Maguire reached the semi-finals at Lahinch, beating Irish Junior international Vicki Power, former senior international Sinead Keane and promising young Munster player Catherine Tucker along the way.

Lisa's run was brought to an end in the semi-finals when she lost to Tipperary's Marian Riordan by one hole, but by then she had more than impressed even the most seasoned of golfing observers with the standard of her play and her handling of the sometimes blustery conditions.

Meanwhile, Leona became the youngest ever winner of the coveted Hermitage Scratch Cup with a score of 147 over 36 holes, three shots clear of runner-up Maura Morrin, the Irish international.

Of course what makes the Maguire twins stand out is their date of birth, December 30th, 1994, drawing comparisons with players such as Aree Wongluekiet who, in 1999, won the US Girls' Junior Championship at 13, and Kimberly Kim, who won 2006 US Women's Golf Championship at just 14.

Last year Lisa, then 11, memorably won the Under-12 World Championship at Pinehurst, with Leona finishing third.

These being awards for "Sportswomen", rather than children, our inclination, at first, was to leave the twins in peace just to enjoy their golf, which is the only thing that matters at such an early age, but such was the quality of their displays in adult tournaments it was simply impossible to ignore them. Having received wild-card entries to the Northern Ireland Open last month, where they competed with Europe's top professionals, both twins have evidently reached a level that belies their age.

Lisa and Leona, then, are our sportswomen of the month for May, not simply because they are 12, but because they produced the breakthrough performances of the month at Lahinch a nd Hermitage.

JANUARY- Marie Breen (basketball): The 21-year-old captained Glanmire to victory in the Superleague National Cup final against defending champions University of Limerick, scoring 29 points and being named the final's "Most Valuable Player".

FEBRUARY- Chloe Magee (badminton): The Swedish-based Donegal teenager had an excellent start to the year, helping Ireland to the final of the Helvetia Cup, and winning the singles and doubles titles at the national championships.

MARCH- Nina Carberry (horse racing): Two years after she became the first woman rider since 1987 to win a professional race at the Cheltenham Festival the 22-year-old did it again, winning the Sporting Index Handicap Chase on the Enda Bolger-trained Heads Onthe Ground.

APRIL -Emma Byrne (soccer): The Arsenal and Republic of Ireland goalkeeper completed an extraordinary season with her club, winning every competition it entered. The highlight for the Leixlip native came in the Uefa Cup final against favourites Umea of Sweden - Byrne kept a clean sheet in both legs and Arsenal became the first English club to win the competition.

Each sportswoman is eligible for just one monthly award, but her achievements through the year will be taken into account by the panel of judges when the decision on the overall winner is made.