'She walked into the room, and I just knew we would be together' - Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh
IT was love at first sight for Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh when she fell for a woman for the first time.
The beautiful Rose, who made headlines across the world when she announced she was gay just after winning the competition last year, has revealed the moment, just three years ago, when her world was turned upside down while she was playing for a women's football team in the US.
From the moment a new team member walked into the room, Maria instantly knew they would be together.
The 27 year old, who won the 'Most Stylish Newcomer' award at the VIP Style Awards on Friday night, told the Sunday Independent: "I had been dating guys but I never found the right guy who I wanted to be with in a serious relationship. Work had always been my priority. And then I met a girl randomly one night.
"She came over to Philadelphia to play football. She introduced herself at the team dinner. And I just thought, 'I'm going to be with you.' I just knew. For whatever reason, I felt this is the person I want to invest time in and to build a respectful relationship with.
"I came home a couple of months later to tell my family and I came out in a very cool and collected way.
"We dated for a long period of time. And then life just got too busy and too complicated and we parted ways."
Was she your first love?
"Yes. Yes, for sure," she said, before adding: "Fingers crossed, there will be more."
It seems unlikely, but Maria says her Rose title can be off-putting for potential admirers.
"I really genuinely don't [get asked out these days]. I think people just say, 'Ah well she's really busy.' Hopefully maybe in September when I hand back the crown.
"But for now I am married to the crown," she joked, "whether its legal or not - that's what I am married to".
Maria had a word of advice for young members of the LGBT community - she urged them to be patient when talking to their families, and to answer questions families have openly rather than becoming self-protective.
Speaking of her own experience, Maria recalled: "My father asked me some questions which I think every LGBT community member needs to understand and respect - when their family ask questions, I think sometimes we get on the defensive and it should be like that, it should be an open conversation.
"My dad asked me would I have issues with my job, would I have children, could I get married, and all of those questions I answered at the time to my best ability, but the thing is you never know. You never know what is going to happen next year, nor do we know what's going to happen next week, so you just need to be confident and comfortable in your own skin to know that, at some point, the answers will come and that's sort of the way it was for me."
Meanwhile, tongues were wagging at the VIP style awards when two of Ireland's top models turned up in strikingly similar outfits. Daniella Moyles walked the red carpet in a tailored gold-and-silver metallic high-shouldered tuxedo suit top with a micro-mini skirt, while Roz Purcell wore a shiny, short, pink double-breasted ensemble.
Daniella's outfit was part of Catriona Hanley's 2015 autumn/winter Studio 54 collection, which has yet to be unveiled to the public.
Roz made her own creation under her clothes label 'ScribeByRoz'. Last January, Roz modelled clothes for Catriona Hanley's Studio 54 collection at her home in Co Leitrim -but could not wear anything from the eye-catching collection to the awards last night due to her contract with her own clothing company.
Roz was philosophical about the sartorial similarity. "I guess metallic suit dresses are all on trend," she said. "My suit dress range is launching in July in House of Fraser and we'll have a gorgeous selection of colours. Daniella and I embraced the twin effect."
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Ms Hanley said: "Roz's look has nothing to do with my collection. How she came up with the design, I don't know. I love Roz's style, I think she's absolutely fantastic, she modelled for me before, maybe great minds think alike. But I am delighted my clothes have caused such interest on the night."
The designer, whose collections sell in London and Paris, also dressed Alison Canavan on the night and Aisling Quinn, daughter of Niall and Gillian, who wore a Chantilly lace dress complete with Catriona's signature Thatcher pussy-cat bow.
Elsewhere at the awards ceremony at Dublin's Marker Hotel, Pippa O'Connor walked away with the top gong for 'Most Stylish Woman' while Jennifer Maguire, who won 'Look of the Night' championed homegrown talent wearing a Marion Murphy Cooney combination. She looked super svelte in her first red- carpet appearance since giving birth to her daughter Florence last month.