Irish Sportswomen: Top 50 Memorable Moments Part Two - 40 to 31

Every day this week, Mary Hannigan looks at some of the highlights in women’s sport from the last 30 years. Part two looks at 40 to 31

Ellen Keane on her way to bronze in the women's 100m breaststroke final at the Paralympics in Rio. Photograph: Al Tielemans/Getty

Ellen Keane on her way to bronze in the women's 100m breaststroke final at the Paralympics in Rio. Photograph: Al Tielemans/Getty

 

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 two, from 40 to 31.

40) The WGPA

Anna Geary, Kate Kelly, Deirdre Murphy, Aoife Lane, Valerie Mulcahy, Fiona McHale and Tyrone’s Gemma Begley launch WGPA in 2015. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Anna Geary, Kate Kelly, Deirdre Murphy, Aoife Lane, Valerie Mulcahy, Fiona McHale and Tyrone’s Gemma Begley launch WGPA in 2015. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

In light of the well documented shoddy treatment experienced by intercounty players around the country, often at the hands of their own county boards, the launch of the Women’s Gaelic Players Association in January 2015 was as timely as it was significant. “The whole idea of the WGPA is to find out what issues are there, and seek to improve them, rather than go home in the car giving out,” said Cork footballer Valerie Mulcahy. There’s a way to go yet, but at least since January 2015 the players have a body fighting their corner.

39) Jessica Kuerten

Jessica Kuerten competes at Aachen in May, 2006. Photograph: Vladimir Rys/Getty Images
Jessica Kuerten competes at Aachen in May, 2006. Photograph: Vladimir Rys/Getty Images

There was a spell between the closing months of 2005 and the early stages of 2006 that Jessica Kuerten could do no wrong, a remarkable run of international success lifting her in to the world top 10, the highlight of that streak victory in the richest event in the sport, the Dubai Grand Prix. When the world rankings were issued at the beginning of February, the Antrim rider was at number two and the highest ranked woman in the world.

38) Kellie Harrington

Kellie Harrington salutes the crowd after winning gold at the 2016 Women’s World Boxing Championships. Photograph: Inpho
Kellie Harrington salutes the crowd after winning gold at the 2016 Women’s World Boxing Championships. Photograph: Inpho

She went to Kazakhstan for the 2016 World Boxing Championships as a “nobody”, she said, and came home with a silver medal around her neck. It had been some journey too for the Dubliner, from the days she “sparred with shadows” in a neighbour’s shed because her local club didn’t accept female fighters, from the strain of holding down two jobs while trying to fit in an intensive training regime, to becoming only the second Irish woman to medal in the World Championships after Katie Taylor.

37) Natalya Coyle

Natalya Coyle after finishing seventh in the Modern Pentathlon at the Rio Games. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Natalya Coyle after finishing seventh in the Modern Pentathlon at the Rio Games. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Having become the first Irish woman to represent her country in the Modern Pentathlon at London 2012 where she finished ninth, Coyle went three places better in Rio (she was upgraded to sixth after a Chinese athlete failed a doping test). She wondered after if she could have done better, but judging by the brilliantly powerful photo taken by Inpho’s Dan Sheridan at the end of the final discipline, she gave everything she had. And a little more.

36) The First Bout

Elanna Audley and Katie Taylor at the National Stadium in 2001. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Elanna Audley and Katie Taylor at the National Stadium in 2001. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The lifting of the ban in Ireland on women boxing came too late for some of the sport’s pioneers, like Deirdre Gogarty, but the country’s first officially sanctioned bout at the National Stadium in October, 2001 was a momentous one for the victor, a 15-year-old from Bray by the name of Katie Taylor. The girl she beat, 16-year-old Alanna Audley from Belfast, didn’t do too badly in later years either, winning a bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

35) Chloe Magee

By the time she was 27, Magee had already competed in three Olympic Games - Beijing, London and Rio - but topping all those experiences was the day back in April of this year when she and her brother Sam, from Raphoe in Co Donegal, became the first ever Irish medallists at the European Badminton Championships when they beat the number four and five seeds en route to taking bronze.

34) Team of the Year

The Cork team celebrate after winning the 2014 All-Ireland. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho
The Cork team celebrate after winning the 2014 All-Ireland. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho

When they won their ninth All-Ireland in 10 years in 2014, the Cork footballers simply strengthened their claim on the tag of the greatest women’s team ever in Irish sport. Later in the year, though, they received a level of recognition never previously afforded a women’s side when, by public vote, they won RTÉ’s Team of the Year award. They held off the challenge of the Six Nations-winning rugby side and the All-Ireland winning Kerry footballers and Kilkenny hurlers, among others, taking 27 per cent of the vote.

33) Ellen Keane

Ellen Keane
Ellen Keane

One of the country’s most powerful voices on disability and the capacity of sport to enrich lives, the Clontarf swimmer first competed in the Paralympics when she was just 13, finishing sixth in the 100m breaststroke in Beijing. Four years later in London she inched closer to a medal, coming fifth in the 100m butterfly, her magical moment finally arriving in Rio when she won bronze in the 100m breaststroke. “I was always so insecure about being ‘the girl with one arm’,” she said. “I used to hide my arm in my sleeve to make it seem like I had two. But in the pool, there’s nowhere to hide.”

32) Stephanie Meadow

Stephanie Meadow plays a shot from the pine straw at the 2014 US Women’s Open at Pinehurst. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images
Stephanie Meadow plays a shot from the pine straw at the 2014 US Women’s Open at Pinehurst. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images

After a hugely successful college career with the University of Alabama, winning a record nine tournaments in her time there, the Jordanstown golfer, who hit the winning putt in the 2012 Curtis Cup to give Britain and Ireland their first win in the competition since 1996 and won the British Amateur Open Championship in the same year, turned professional and joined the LGPA Tour. And in her very first tournament as a professional she finished third in the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst, three shots behind winner Michelle Wie - her first cheque as a professional was for a not too scruffy €200,000.

31) Gillian O’Sullivan

Gillian O’Sullivan of Ireland celebrates winning the silver in 2003. Photograph: Patrick Bolger/Inpho
Gillian O’Sullivan of Ireland celebrates winning the silver in 2003. Photograph: Patrick Bolger/Inpho

Until 2003 Sonia O’Sullivan was the only Irish woman to win a World Championship medal, but then along came another Munster O’Sullivan, this one Gillian from Kerry. The year before she had broken the world record in the 5km walk, one that stood until 2014, and finished - agonisingly - fourth at the European championships. But her finest hour came at the World Athletics Championships in Paris when she took silver in the 20km walk.

Part Three, counting down from 30 to 21, will be published on Thursday.

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