The good, the bad and the rugby
Hugh Farrelly hands out his awards for oval ball excellence and incompetence in 2010
IT'S a tradition as old as the game itself, the end of season awards, and this year is a little tougher than 2009 when Irish rugby swept all before it.
A hit-and-miss Six Nations was followed by a challenging, injury-ravaged summer tour that produced no victories but did flag the potential of younger players just over a year out from the World Cup.
The November Series was a flat affair, the relaunching of Lansdowne Road undone by the disastrous ticket pricing fiasco, and the performances -- an energetic effort against the All Blacks aside -- were as underwhelming as the attendances. It was left, once again, to the Heineken Cup to thrill the senses with Munster, Ulster and, particularly, Leinster throwing themselves into European adventure with dramatic effect and, though it's far from assured for all three, the provinces head into 2011 with qualification in their own hands.
BEST IRELAND PERFORMANCE
England 16 Ireland 20,
Twickenham, Feb 27
There is little to compete with turning over England on their own patch. An inherent arrogance within the squad, media and in the stands means no matter how often you beat them, they never seem to see it coming.
Coming off the back of a hammering in Paris, this was a complete performance from Declan Kidney's Ireland in the face of a ferociously physical onslaught.
The scores were tied at 13-13 when Jonny Wilkinson landed a 71st-minute drop goal but Ireland responded with a superbly worked set-piece move.
Paul O'Connell directed the line-out to Tomas O'Leary and he scorched around the back and fed Tommy Bowe, who raced over for his second try of the afternoon to clinch the victory. Sweet.
BEST PROVINCial display
Clermont 20 Leinster 13, Dec 12
They beat the French champions out the gate in Lansdowne Road the following week, but this Leinster performance at the Stade Marcel Michelin was even more impressive given the circumstances surrounding it.
No Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney or Luke Fitzgerald and Jamie Heaslip forced off just after half-time with an ankle injury, but Leinster played scintillating rugby and unnerved the home side with their physicality, earning a losing bonus point in a cauldron that was expecting a rout.
While older heads like Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings and Gordon D'Arcy laid the platform, it was the performances of youngsters like Eoin O'Malley, Fergus McFadden and Dominic Ryan that topped off a seminal day for Joe Schmidt and his coaching team.
IRISH PLAYER OF THE YEAR
It is laughable to think how Bowe was casually dismissed in his earlier career as not being of international standard. The move from Ulster to the Ospreys has been an unqualified success and the Monaghan man's consistent excellence for club, country and Lions (in 2009) has propelled him to global attention as one of the world's elite wingers.
Bowe picked up five tries in his 10 internationals in 2010 and, if Ireland hit their stride in New Zealand, has the charisma and ability to be one of the stars of the World Cup.
TRY OF THE YEAR
Clermont v Leinster, Dec 12
Ireland managed to score some lovely tries against New Zealand at New Plymouth last June but, with the game in the bag, it is fair to say the All Blacks defence was not all it could have been.
Munster's Johne Murphy would have claimed this gong had Felipe Contepomi not managed to haul down the Kildare man as he was about to finish off a sparkling move launced by full-back Paul Warwick deep inside his own half against Toulon.
Instead it goes to Horgan for the first try in Clermont. The winger finished superbly but it was the build-up play which made this score so impressive: the off-loading and interplay between backs and forwards was exceptional while the eventual execution was clinical.
IRISH COACH OF THE YEAR
Brian Walsh (Cork Constitution)
There was preposterous, soccer-style media pressure applied after a few early losses, but Leinster's new man Schmidt has serious pedigree and has made quite an impression since moving to Dublin.
However, with the Irish provinces trophyless this year, the award goes to Cork Con coach Walsh, who steered the Temple Hill side to the league and cup double. In his playing days, Walsh was an intelligent outside back with a gliding, Jeremy Guscott-style of running and he brings that expressive attitude to his coaching duties.
AIL PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Frank Cogan (Cork Constitution)
Like David Quinlan at Shannon, Cogan is a rallying figure for his club and one of the unheralded heroes of the All-Ireland League. A consistent source of momentum off the back of the scrum, the No 8 is defined by his consistency and commitment to the cause and had an excellent year.
AIL GAME OF THE YEAR
St Mary's 24 Old Belvedere 23,
St Mary's 53-0 destruction of Shannon in October was a remarkable result and performance by the Templeogue club, while Dolphin recording their first league win over Con in Temple Hill was pretty special, for a variety of reasons.
However, the stand-out match for drama and entertainment was the league semi-final at Templeville Road, decided by a controversial conversion by Mary's full-back Gavin Dunne which appeared to have drifted wide.
THE CAFÉ EN SEINE AWARD
The packaging and pricing of the November International tickets was embarrassingly smug and ill-judged. The backlash, with the clubs baring their teeth impressively, hurt the union badly.
THE WINSTON WOLF AWARD (for practical solutions)
For copping on with the ticket issue and plotting a path for Connacht rugby that may veer towards the vague (not helped by the likely departures of Sean Cronin, Ian Keatley and Fionn Carr) but will hopefully point towards a brighter future for rugby in the west.
THE 'WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO?' AWARD
Compelling case for inclusion in November but did not get a run. Consistent form means an outcry is inevitable if he is ignored again for the Six Nations.
Carried on from 2009 to establish his credentials as the most exciting attacker in Irish rugby. Lethal pace and evasion skills evoked memories of Connacht predecessor Simon Geoghegan, but Irish management concerns about Carr's defence precluded an international call-up.
Recovered from his shoulder problems in time for November but did not get the call, despite injury and suspension issues in the second-row. A class act and natural leader.
THE 'it DOESN'T MATTER WHAT I DO' AWARD
The most gifted footballer in Irish rugby was at his best steering Ulster to victory over Bath at the Rec last weekend but is no closer to international recognition.
Humphreys' club colleague Paddy Wallace remains the designated cover for Ronan O'Gara and Jonathan Sexton despite playing mostly in the centre.
THE CLINTON HUPPERT AWARD
Dodgy overseas signings have been part and parcel of Irish rugby for 20 years. Leinster prop Clint 'Billy Ray' Newland, signed as cover for the injured Stan Wright, looks decidedly suspect but, as with Wright a few years ago, it is too soon to tell.
So 'the Huppert' goes to Horua, the New Zealand-born, Australian-raised back-row signed by Ulster for two years in March 2009, who then divided his time between the treatment table and the AIL for Belfast Harlequins before being dumped a year early.
THE METHUSALAH AWARD
Four years older than Jesus at his exit point, but the remarkable Cappamore man keeps ploughing away.
YOUNG, GIFTED AND IRISH
Eoin O'Malley, Dominic Ryan, Ian Nagle, and Nevin Spence.