Friday 30 September 2016

Hot competition for top honours in year of glory

Published 09/11/2015 | 02:30

The race in on to succeed Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor as Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year
The race in on to succeed Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor as Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year

The race to succeed Katie Taylor as Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year in association with The Croke Park Hotel is heating up with another extraordinary sporting year coming to an end.

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Michael Conlan was one of a handful of double weekly winners. The Belfast bantamweight won gold at the European Elite Championships in August and followed that up by becoming the first Irish male to win a title at the World Amateur Championships in Doha last month.

Another fighter in contention is Conor McGregor, who has captured the public's attention with his colourful personality and comprehensive displays inside the octagon.

As always, the staples of golf, horse racing, rugby, Gaelic games and soccer are to the fore on the list of those who won Sportstar of the Week awards.

It was a year to remember for Shane Lowry, highlighted by his stunning victory in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August.

Lowry showed nerves of steel to repel Major winners Justin Rose, Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson down the stretch, collecting a cool €1,412,760 in the process.

The popular Lowry has parachuted into the world's top 20 and spots on the Ryder Cup and Olympic teams, as well as a possible Major triumph, could be on his horizon for next year.

In the equine world, Willie Mullins confirmed his status as the leading horse trainer on these shores with a plethora of big-race winners.

The Closutton handler made a remarkable start to the year, with Hurricane Fly becoming the world-leading Grade One winner after a terrier-like display in the Irish Champion Hurdle.

The champion trainer monopolised big races at Leopardstown, Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown, producing a famous 1-2-3 in the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle, led home by the magnificent Faugheen.

Ireland had 13 winners on the Cotswolds and a record eight of them were saddled by Mullins, bringing his total at the Festival to 41.

Mullins' association with Ruby Walsh rewarded punters throughout the year but it was Walsh's sister Katie who stole the headlines in April.

She became only the third female jockey to take the Irish Grand National with an emotional success aboard Thunder And Roses.

In the world of Flat racing, Dermot Weld once again illustrated his phenomenal training talent. As well as Windsor Park's Grade One success at Cheltenham, the Kildare maestro was top trainer at the Galway Festival yet again.

Abundance

Ascot was a particularly happy hunting ground for Weld, with Free Eagle showing guts in abundance to take the Prince of Wales's Stakes at the Royal meeting.

Then, just last month, Fascinating Rock finished the season on another high note, winning the Champion Stakes and a cheque for just over €1m.

The Rugby World Cup took the nation's attention during September and October and, while there was a disappointing conclusion for Joe Schmidt's side, cast your mind back to March 21.

The final day of the Six Nations had it all: skill, heart, determination and drama. Ireland's 40-10 in Murrayfield against Scotland, typified by an opening try by talismanic captain Paul O'Connell, secured back-to-back titles for the first time since 1949.

After an absorbing day, it was fitting that the Limerick great lifted the trophy and set off scenes of chaotic celebration across the island.

On the GAA front, Jack McCaffrey and rookie midfielder Brian Fenton were pivotal as Dublin claimed their 25th Sam Maguire while Kilkenny won back-to-back hurling titles.

Eoin Larkin's All-Ireland final performance, after a remarkable recovering from a broken thumb, deservedly earned acclaim before the James Stephens attacker embarked on six month's peace-keeping duty with the Defence Forces in Syria.

Meanwhile, Briege Corkery, along with team-mate Rena Buckley, powered into the record books, claiming their 16th All-Ireland senior title as Cork's ladies secured an amazing double.

With Martin O'Neill's Irish soccer side on the brink of a Euro 2016 play-off against Bosnia, it's impossible not recall the scenes at the old Lansdowne Road against world champions Germany on October 8.

Shane Long was only on the field five minutes when the Tipperary striker pounced on a Darren Randolph clearance to seal his place in Irish folklore with a beautiful finish. Let's hope there's more to come against the Bosnians.

On the domestic scene, Stephen Kenny's Dundalk dominated the League of Ireland with an 11-point gap to nearest rivals Cork City. Richie Towell's goalscoring heroics and consistent brilliance helped power the Lilywhites to an historic double.

These were just a flavour of the stories grabbing the sporting headlines in 2015. Now, it's up to you, our readers, to decide who should be the Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year in association with The , a Doyle Collection hotel.

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