Katie McCabe wins Sportswoman Award for November
Irish captain named The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Month
Ireland captain Katie McCabe. Photograph: Tommy Dickson
It was, to put it mildly, an eventful year for the Republic of Ireland football squad, one they’re unlikely to forget in any great hurry. It began with the appointment of a new coach, followed by that very public dispute with the FAI over pay and conditions, before concluding with their most encouraging ever start to a qualifying campaign for a major tournament, their last outing an outstanding draw away to European champions the Netherlands. There was, then, rarely a dull moment.
When they were drawn in a World Cup qualifying group that included the Dutch and Norway, ranked 19 places above them at 14, the prospects of making it to the 2019 finals in France would have looked remote.
And, realistically, they’re still a long shot for qualification, with three of their five remaining group games against the Norwegians (home and away) and the Netherlands (home), but they’ve well and truly put themselves in the mix after taking seven points from their opening three games, starting with 2-0 away wins over Northern Ireland and Slovakia.
The draw in the Netherlands was particularly impressive in light of the fact that the team was without three of its most experienced players - Megan Campbell, Aine O’Gorman and Stephanie Roche - but they still managed to keep the Dutch scoreless, while creating a few decent chances on the break as well.
When Colin Bell took over as coach one of his first tasks was to tighten up the defence - with a remarkable eight clean sheets from their 10 games in 2017, it’s mission accomplished on that front, so far at least. And a settled defence has been largely to thank for that dramatic improvement, with Louise Quinn, Diane Caldwell and Harriet Scott playing all 10 games this year, while goalkeeper Marie Hourihan has established herself in the side following the retirement of Emma Byrne.
The fourth of the year’s quartet of ever-presents was Katie McCabe, the 22-year-old Dubliner who was appointed captain of the side back in August and who has been consistently excellent throughout the campaign. A challenging spell it was too on the club front with no little upheaval, McCabe joining Glasgow City on loan from Arsenal. By the time her spell ended last month, she had helped them win their 11th successive league title.
For her own form throughout 2017 and for her leadership of the team, then, McCabe is our choice for the November Sportswoman of the Month.
Previous monthly winners (awards run from December 2016 to November 2017, inclusive)
Leanne Kiernan (Soccer)
The Cavan teenager had an outstanding 12 months for Ireland at under-17 and 19 level before marking her debut for the senior team by scoring and collecting the player of the match award. She also helped Shelbourne to a league and cup double, scoring a hat-trick in the FAI Cup final, and won the FAI Young Player of the Year award.
Grainne Dwyer (Basketball)
The Thurles woman won her fifth National Cup medal and third Most Valuable Player award from the last four finals when Glanmire beat Courtyard Liffey Celtics 61-48, Dwyer’s form helping put the Cork club on course for its third consecutive league and cup double.
Paula Fitzpatrick (Rugby)
Fitzpatrick captained Ireland to victory in the opening four games of their Six Nations campaign. While August’s World Cup proved to be a disappointment for the team, Fitzpatrick had a pool game to remember against Japan, scoring two tries, the second sealing victory after Ireland had trailed 14-0.
Aoife Cassidy (Camogie)
Playing alongside her sisters Eilis and Brona, Aoife Cassidy captained Derry club Slaughtneil, from a townland made up of just 350 homes, to their first All Ireland Senior Camogie Club Championship and only the second ever for Ulster when they beat Galway’s Sarsfields at Croke Park.
Jessica Harrington (Horse Racing) and Chloe Magee (Badminton)
Harrington completed the Triple Crown of Cheltenham’s great races, Sizing John winning the Gold Cup to add to her previous successes in the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase. And then she won the Irish Grand National for the first time with Our Duke. Magee, meanwhile, became the first Irish woman to win a European Championship medal in badminton, partnering brother Sam to bronze in the mixed doubles in Denmark.
Leona Maguire (Golf)
Even before she won the British Amateur Championship in June, Maguire had been added to our 2017 list after another superb season with Duke University that earned her multiple awards, including the Mark H McCormack Medal, for the third year running, which is awarded to the top amateur golfer in the world.
Mona McSharry (Swimming)
The Sligo teenager already had a summer to remember when she won two gold medals and a silver at June’s European Junior Championships in Israel, but then in August she headed for Indianapolis where she became the first Irish swimmer to win gold at the World Junior Championships. McSharry broke the national senior record in her 100m breaststroke victory, adding a bronze in the 50m breaststroke to her medal haul.
Gina Akpe-Moses (Athletics)
At just 18 Akpe-Moses, who took up athletics when she joined Dundalk’s St Gerard’s Club at the age of seven, became Ireland’s first European women’s sprint title winner at under-20 to senior level when she won the 100m at the European Under-20 Championships in Italy. Now based in Birmingham, where she’s a member of Birchfield Harriers, her target is to represent Ireland at the Tokyo Olympics.
Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal (Cycling)
The pair have enjoyed yet another successful year, McCrystal taking the National Road Series and finishing as the highest placed Irish rider in the Rás na mBan, while Dunlevy had a rich time of it in World Cup events and at the National Championships with her other partner, Katharine Smyth. Together, though, they achieved their ultimate goal for 2017, winning double gold at the Para-cycling Road World Championships in South Africa.
Rena Buckley (Camogie) and Sinead Aherne (Gaelic Football)
The pair captained their counties to All-Ireland success in September, Buckley (the camogie player of the year) winning her 18th All-Ireland medal in all when she led Cork to camogie victory over reigning champions Kilkenny, while Aherne (nominated for footballer of the year - the winner will be announced on Sunday) scored nine points in Dublin’s triumph over Mayo.
Katie Taylor (Boxing)
Our four-time Sportswoman of the Year, the first of her awards coming 10 years ago, has enjoyed yet more success since turning professional, winning all six of her fights up to her victory over Argentina’s Anahi Sanchez in Cardiff which earned her her first world professional title.