Irish Sportswomen: Top 50 Memorable Moments - Top 10
Mary Hannigan selects the top 10 highlights in women’s sport from the last 30 years
Throughout the week, on our amble through memorable moments produced by Irish sportswomen over the past 30 years, we went from 50 to 11 - now we’re on to the top 10!
Enjoy the final leg of the trip, which features a whole bunch of the finest sportswomen and the most outstanding of achievements we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing over the last three decades.
10) Derval O’Rourke
“When I look back on my career, the only thing that will count is medals,” the Cork woman once said. By the time she retired in 2014 she had five major championship medals to count, making her one of the most decorated Irish athletes of all time. There were successive 100m hurdles silvers in the European Championships, and two European Indoor bronze medals from the 60m hurdles, but her golden moment came in Moscow in 2006 when she won the 60m hurdles at the World Indoor Championships. Throw in multiple Irish records and three Olympic appearances and you have a career of considerable substance.
9) Record Breakers
Granted, sport rarely fails to surprise, but students of the history of Gaelic Games were possibly certain of one thing: that Kathleen Mills’ record of 15 All-Ireland senior medals between 1941 and 1961, all in camogie, would never be broken. But then along came Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley and their extraordinary dual commitment to Cork, the pair passing Mills’ mark in 2015 when they helped their county to football victory over Dublin - and a year later they made it 17 senior medals each, in camogie and football, when Cork beat Dublin again. Only a fool would insist their record will never be broken, but with the level of commitment required these days, if someone is to surpass them it will take some doing.
8) Nina Carberry
She’s another of our sportswomen with such a lengthy a list of achievements that it’s hard to know where to start. Winning the 2011 Irish Grand National on Organisedconfusion, making her only the second female jockey (at the time) to achieve the feat after Ann Ferris in 1984, was a special day, but six years before that, at just 20, she realised an ambition she had since she was a child. She won at the Cheltenham Festival, “the Olympics of racing”, as she called it, in her first appearance there. And since beating a field of 24 by eight lengths on Dabiroun in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap hurdle, becoming the first woman to win at the Festival in almost two decades, she’s added six more Cheltenham wins to her CV.
7) Catherina McKiernan
She’s often asked to do the nigh on impossible and choose the standout moment from her career. On one occasion she overlooked her European Cross Country gold medal in 1994, her four World Cross Country silvers, running the fastest time ever in a debut marathon when she won in Berlin, setting the Irish record when she won the Amsterdam marathon and becoming the first Irish runner to win the London marathon. Instead, she chose her first All Ireland schools title in 1988. If that’s good enough for the Cavan woman, it’s good enough for us. After all, it launched a stellar career.
6) Jessica Harrington
“Not bad for a 70-year-old,” she said after Our Duke won the Grand National at Fairyhouse back in April. But the spell of success she had just enjoyed wouldn’t have been bad for any vintage at all. From being one of Ireland’s finest three-day event riders back in the day, Harrington has become one of its greatest trainers with a lengthy list of achievements. Top of that list, perhaps, was the completing of the set of the Cheltenham Festival ‘Big Three’ when Sizing John, like Our Duke ridden by Robbie Power, won the Gold Cup a month before her Grand National victory, adding to her past successes in the Champion Chase with Moscow Flyer and the Champion Hurdle with Jezki. Not bad indeed.
5) The Cork Footballers
When you win 11 All-Irelands in 12 years you’re going to produce a fair few memorable moments, but Geraldine O’Flynn’s winning point in the 2014 final against Dublin capped a comeback that exemplified the remarkable Cork team’s inability to recognise when they’re beaten. The year before they came back from nine points down to beat Dublin in the quarter-finals, this time they were 10 down with just 16 minutes to go, Cork leaving the Dubs dazed once again with the mother of all revivals. Any of the 27,374 crowd who drifted home early will never live it down.
4) Annalise Murphy
Sailing might not quite be the national sport, but for a week in Rio last summer it felt like it was - and by the time Murphy’s work was done, there wasn’t a thing we didn’t know about Laser Radials. Her tearful dejection after finishing fourth in London 2012, and her resolve to erase the memory by getting among the medals next time around, made her story a compelling one, her unconfined joy on securing silver in the medal race a sight to warm any heart. It was Ireland’s first Olympic medal in sailing since 1980, 10 years before Murphy was born, adding to a CV that already included the under-21 world title and European Championship gold.
3) The Grand Slam
Before 2013 Ireland had never finished higher than third in the Six Nations, but after beating England and France in Ashbourne, and Wales and Scotland on their travels, they headed to Milan with the Grand Slam in their sights. In the grimmest of weather conditions they fell behind early on to an Italian penalty, but Niamh Briggs levelled. And with half an hour to go she converted another penalty to put Ireland 6-3 up, a score that proved to be decisive, Ireland sealing the Grand Slam, and taking Irish women’s rugby to a whole new level.
2) Sonia O’Sullivan
She would have filled a fair chunk of our top 50 all by herself if we’d allowed more than one entry per sportswoman, O’Sullivan’s career liberally sprinkled with the most of memorable moments. In the summer of 1995 alone she won 21 of the 22 races she ran, including the 5,000m final at the World Championships in Gothenburg, and in 1998 she won the short and long course events at the World Cross Country Championships in Marrakech and the 5000m and 10000m at the European Championships in Budapest. But after the despair of Atlanta in 1996, her redemption in Sydney four years later, when she won Olympic silver in the 5000m behind Gabriela Szabo, was a moment of the truly unforgettable kind.
1) Katie Taylor
Hers has been a journey like few others, it wasn’t even legal for her to pursue her chosen sporting career until she was 15. And since then it’s been a procession of triumphs, Taylor winning everything there was to be won in her sport. Over and over again. She’s now chasing a world title in the professional ranks, but whatever lies ahead it’s difficult to imagine anything matching that 2012 day in London’s ExCel Arena when she beat Russia’s Sofya Ochigaya on points to win Olympic gold. An audience of just over one million tuned in back home and saw her sink to her knees on being declared the first ever Olympic female lightweight champion. Memorable? Indelible.
The selection panel for the top 50 was: Mary Hannigan, Lindie Naughton, Greg Allen, Joanne O’Riordan, Cliona Foley, Brian O'Connor, Malachy Clerkin and Keith Duggan.