Irish Sportswomen: Top 50 Memorable Moments Part Three - 30 to 21

Every day this week, Mary Hannigan looks at some of the highlights in women’s sport from the last 30 years. Part three looks at 30 to 21

 Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo look on as Stephanie Roche arrives for the 2014 Fifa Ballon d’Or Gala. Photograph:  Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo look on as Stephanie Roche arrives for the 2014 Fifa Ballon d’Or Gala. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

 

It started out as just a bit of fun, a rule-free spot of reminiscing, a list of 50 memorable moments produced by Irish sportswomen. But then a hurdle or two got in the way.

Like, ‘how many places in the top 50 has Sonia taken so far?’

‘Oh, about 64.’

‘How far are we going back?’

‘Well, there was Lena Rice winning Wimbledon in 1890.’

So, for fear of it turning in to a top 550, we narrowed our moments to the last 30 years, and to just one per sportswoman.

Other than that, no rules apply, it’s an entirely unmethodical browse through three decades of landmark moments and sporting excellence, in team and individual sport, on the home and international front. We’ve no doubt missed some very obvious choices, so advance and profuse apologies are offered. We continue with part three, from 30 to 21.

30) Rachael Blackmore

Rachael Blackmore with her conditional jockeys’ title last year. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Rachael Blackmore with her conditional jockeys’ title last year. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

In 2015, at the age of 25, the Tipperary native became only the second professional female jump jockey in Irish racing history, after Maria Cullen in the 1980s, choosing to leave the amateur ranks partly due to the limited opportunities that came her way. It proved to be a wise decision. She rode 32 winners in the 2016-17 season, enough to make her the first woman to win the Irish conditional jockeys’ title.

29) Margaret Johnston

Margaret Johnston (right).
Margaret Johnston (right).

The Bellaghy woman only took up bowling when she lived in the Derry parish of Tamlaght O’Crilly, where there wasn’t much else happening to pass the days. By the time she retired from competing internationally in 2008 she had won every major honour in the sport, several of them on multiple occasions, becoming the first woman to win three World Singles titles in a row. Her proudest achievement came in 1992 when she became the first woman to win both the World Singles and Pairs titles in the same year, the latter with her long-time friend and rival, Dubliner Phyllis Nolan.

28) Gráinne Murphy

Grainne Murphy shows off her silver medal in 2010. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Grainne Murphy shows off her silver medal in 2010. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

At just 22 the Wexford swimmer announced her retirement from the sport last year after her progress had been blighted by a shoulder injury and, later, a severe lung infection. She had some outstanding moments to reflect on, though, starting with the three gold medals and a bronze that she won at the European Junior Championships when she was just 16. Most memorable of all was the 2010 European Championship silver medal she won in the 1,500m freestyle in her very first year at senior level.

27) Caroline Ryan

Caroline Ryan competing at the UCI Track World Championships in 2011. Photograph: Inpho
Caroline Ryan competing at the UCI Track World Championships in 2011. Photograph: Inpho

The garda from Co Kildare had already made history in 2008 when she became the first Irish woman to win at the Henley Regatta, Ryan then switching from rowing to cycling, enjoying considerable success as Caroline Walsh’s pilot in paracycling. In 2012, though, she had her finest moment in her new sport, becoming the first Irish cyclist to medal at a senior track world championship, taking bronze in the Points race in Melbourne, since Harry ‘The Balbriggan Flyer’ Reynolds in . . . 1897. And coming from a country with no indoor track, that was some going.

26) The Summer of 2014

Ireland’s Under-19 team ahead of their semi-final against the Netherlands in 2014. Photograph: Inpho
Ireland’s Under-19 team ahead of their semi-final against the Netherlands in 2014. Photograph: Inpho

After qualifying for the under-19 European Championships for the first time, manager Dave Connell insisted his Republic of Ireland side wouldn’t be going to Norway for a holiday. But after being drawn in a group with 2012 champions Sweden and 2012 and 2013 runners-up Spain and England it didn’t look like they’d get much business done. Then? There wasn’t just one memorable moment, there were three - remarkably, they beat all three nations to top their group, before losing to the eventual champions Holland in the semi-finals.

25) That Goal

If it wasn’t for then Peamount United manager Eileen Gleeson’s dedication to video analysis, Stephanie Roche’s wonder goal away to Wexford Youths in October 2013 would only have been witnessed by the 95 people at Ferrycarrig Park that day. But not long after Gleeson posted the clip on YouTube, five million had seen Roche control a pass with her right foot, flick the ball over her head before sending a left volley from 25 yards in to the back of the net. It brought a whole new meaning to ‘plays like a girl’. It was a gem. A Puskas Award nomination followed, Roche’s goal finishing runner-up to James Rodriguez’s volley for Colombia in the 2014 World Cup.

24) Ann Downey

Ann Downey.
Ann Downey.

She won the last of her 12 All-Ireland camogie titles in 1994 - to add to her seven All-Ireland club titles, nine league medals and three Player of the Year awards - when she captained Kilkenny to victory over Wexford. And there began a senior All-Ireland drought for the county that didn’t end until 2016 when they beat the three-in-a-row-seeking Cork to win the O’Duffy Cup for the first time in 22 years. The manager? Ann Downey. And so determined had she been to revive her county’s fortunes that victory meant almost as much as any she had achieved as a player.

23) Ice Hockey Gold

We’re claiming Geraldine Heaney as one of our own. Photograph: Brian Bahr/Getty Images
We’re claiming Geraldine Heaney as one of our own. Photograph: Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Considering she and her family left her native Lurgan when she was nine months old, it might be a stretch to lay claim to the dazzling ice hockey career of Geraldine Heaney. But she’s always been quick to remind everyone of her roots, the shamrock on her helmet a bit of a clue, so we’re taking her. Regarded as a pioneer of women’s ice hockey, Heaney played 18 seasons with the Toronto Aeros, ending with her becoming only the third woman to be inducted in to Canada’s Hockey Hall of Fame. She won seven World Championships with Canada but the highlight came in her very last game for her adopted country: Olympic gold against the United States in Salt Lake City in 2002.

22) Leona Maguire 

Leona Maguire poses with the trophy following her victory at the Ladies British Open Amateur Championship. Photograph: Richard Martin-Roberts/Getty Images
Leona Maguire poses with the trophy following her victory at the Ladies British Open Amateur Championship. Photograph: Richard Martin-Roberts/Getty Images

She and her twin sister Lisa were winning tournaments even before they hit their teens, Leona progressing at a dizzying level since then, topping the world amateur rankings for most of the last two years. Her college career with Duke University has been so rich with success she became the first player to win the Annika Award twice, the accolade named in honour of the great Annika Sorenstam that is awarded to the most outstanding female collegiate golfer. She’s had a string of notable successes over the past decade - and she’s still only 22 - but her most prestigious victory to date came at the British Amateur Championship in Wales back in June.

21) Cathy Gannon 

Cathy Gannon is named winner of the Irish Times Sportswoman of the Year in 2005. Photograph: Frank Miller
Cathy Gannon is named winner of the Irish Times Sportswoman of the Year in 2005. Photograph: Frank Miller

Movies have been made about considerably less interesting life stories. Gannon learned how to ride horses in the unlikely setting of her home patch of Donaghmede in north Dublin, a schoolteacher spotting her passion for all things equine and recommending she sign up for the apprentice school at the Curragh. Off she went, at 14, to learn the trade, trainer John Oxx playing a major part in her development. Come 2003 she was pipped to the champion apprentice jockey title, finishing runner-up in the contest, but a year later she clinched it by four winners, becoming the first woman to be crowned champion apprentice jockey in Ireland. And for that she won the inaugural Irish Times Sportswoman of the Year award. The 35-year-old retired last week due to a serious foot injury.

We continue our countdown of the top moments in women's sport on Friday with part four, from 20 to 11. 

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