Sunday 21 January 2018

Pick our Sportstar of the Year and win a great weekend break

ONE of the most remarkable years for Irish sport ebbs to a close and we are left with the difficult challenge of choosing one moment, one figure above all others.

The wheels are already turning in our pursuit of the Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year in association with the Croke Park Hotel – a verdict that will ultimately be delivered by you, our readers.

Everyone who votes for the winner will be in with a chance of winning a luxury weekend for two in the Croke Park Hotel. There will also be two runner-up prizes of a weekend for two in any of the Doyle Collection hotels in Ireland.

To be in with a chance of winning one of these great prizes, simply fill in the coupon below, including your email address, if you have one, and send it to:

Sportstar of the Year,

Irish Independent,

27-32 Talbot St, Dublin 1.

The closing date is Wednesday, January 2. There will be no cash alternatives offered in lieu of any prize and the editor's decision in all matters relating to the competition is final.

So, who will it be?

Katie Taylor won the hearts of the nation by claiming Olympic gold at a throbbing ExCel Arena in London. The Bray girl, who earlier in the year won a fourth consecutive world title, delivered the full repertoire of storied ring-craft that has established her as, arguably, the finest female boxer on the planet.

At the same venue, Mullingar's John Joe Nevin won bantamweight silver, while Belfast duo Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan collected bronze.

In the showjumping arena, Cian O'Connor also made it to the podium to bring Ireland's medal haul to five.

And let's not forget our magnificent Paralympians and their superb list of triumphs at the London Games.

Then again, did any star shine brighter in global sport this year than Rory McIlroy? The youngest player to be voted USPGA Tour Player of the Year since Tiger Woods in '98, McIlroy finished leading money winner on both sides of the Atlantic and, of course, collected his second Major with a run-away victory in the USPGA at Kiawah Island.

Graeme McDowell also finished strongly, ending a two-year winless drought by taking the $1.2m first prize in the World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club, California, while Padraig Harrington showed signs of his old form with a strong challenge in the Masters at Augusta.

Or what about some home-grown heroes? Did anything really compare to Henry Shefflin's ninth All-Ireland medal, 10th All Star and Hurler of the Year award from a season in which he endured a struggle to overcome a career-threatening shoulder injury?

And how does Brian Cody's extraordinary managerial achievement rank? Or, indeed, Jim McGuinness' alchemy in turning Donegal into All-Ireland champions?

While Ireland's rugby team had a disappointing season, Leinster won the Heineken Cup for the second year in a row by beating Ulster in an all-Ireland final, having overcome Clermont in a memorable semi-final.

In soccer, the finals of Euro 2012 are best forgotten from an Irish viewpoint, but the beautiful game lived up to its name in several other respects – not least Sligo Rovers winning the League of Ireland for the first time in 35 years and Neil Lennon leading his Celtic warriors to a famous victory over Barcelona and a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

On the racing front, Aidan O'Brien secured 10 Group One triumphs, while Tom Queally will forever be remembered as the jockey who partnered the flawless Frankel to 13 wins.

In National Hunt, Irish horses had their worst Cheltenham in years with just five winners compared with an unprecedented 13 in 2011. That said, an Irishman – Barry Geraghty – was leading rider at the Festival and another, AP McCoy, rode Synchronised to victory in the Gold Cup.

And, if that wasn't enough to be going on with, up pops Wicklow's Fionnuala Britton who retained her European Cross Country Championships in Budapest yesterday.

She was joined in celebration by the rest of the Irish team of Lizzie Lee, Ava Hutchinson, Linda Byrne, Sara Treacy and Sarah McCormack who claimed a historic team gold.

Irish Independent

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