Francis scoops top award
Neil Francis, the Sunday Independent rugby columnist, was named Sports Columnist of The Year at the National Newspapers of Ireland's annual celebration of print journalism last week.
It is the second year in a row that the winner of this prestigious award has come from the Sunday Independent, following Eamonn Sweeney's success in 2012, and emphasises once again the quality and depth of writing to be found within the most widely-read sports pages. This is seen in that along with Neil, Dion Fanning and Marie Crowe were also nominated in the two sports categories.
"To win this award for the second year in a row shows our commitment to writing about sport in a way that informs, challenges and entertains our readers," said sports editor John Greene.
"We are delighted that Neil's outstanding work has been recognised with this award."
As the citation on Neil rightly pointed out, "when a columnist brings a deep understanding to the subject matter and is also blessed with a strong and creative writing style, it results in the provocative, stimulating and unmissable read."
Having played for Ireland for 10 seasons, which included three World Cups in 1987, 1991 and 1995, Neil certainly knows his subject inside out. He also played for Leinster for 13 seasons, lining out in a Heineken Cup semi-final, and has played for the Barbarians and the British & Irish Lions.
He wrote a player diary of the 1991 World Cup with Paul Kimmage for the Sunday Tribune which was acclaimed for its rawness and honesty.
A column continued intermittently through to the 1995 World Cup and as his rugby career ended, Francis continued writing until 2010 for the same paper. Neil joined the Sunday Independent in 2010 and also writes a column for the Herald.