Tuesday 12 December 2017

Sport Star awards: Stars celebrate a vintage year for Irish sport

Irish Independent editor Fionnán Sheahan with Paul O Donovan, Croke Park Hotel manager Alan Smullen and INM chief executive Robert Pitt. Photo: Frank McGrath
Irish Independent editor Fionnán Sheahan with Paul O Donovan, Croke Park Hotel manager Alan Smullen and INM chief executive Robert Pitt. Photo: Frank McGrath

Ryan Nugent

The great and the good of the Irish sporting world were recognised last night at the star-studded Irish Independent Sportstar awards in Croke Park.

Following a magical year of sporting endeavour, the gala event in GAA headquarters saw stars from a number of fields enjoy a pre-Christmas night out.

Stephanie Roche and boyfriend Dean Zambra at the awards. Photo: Frank McGrath
Stephanie Roche and boyfriend Dean Zambra at the awards. Photo: Frank McGrath
Doireann O Sullivan from Mallow with Fiona Kelly from Co Clare. Photo: Frank McGrath
Joey Carbery with Ronnie Delaney and Austin Gleeson. Photo: Frank McGrath
Colm O’Rourke with Brian Kerr and Eoin Liston. Photo: Frank McGrath
Stephen Rae, Editor-in-Chief of INM, with Rosie Foley, Brendan Foley and Orla Foley after they received the Hall of Fame Award on behalf of Anthony Foley. Photo: Frank McGrath
Olympic silver medallist Annalise Murphy with her parents, Cathy and Con. Photo: Frank McGrath

He may be one of Ireland’s biggest sports stars at the moment but Skibbereen’s golden boy Paul O’Donovan had to be whisked straight from the exam hall to Croke Park to pick up another award last night.

Accepting the award on behalf of himself and his brother Gary, Paul admitted he was “wrecked” after finishing his final exam of the year.

“I only finished my last exam so I came straight out here after that. I’m fairly wrecked, I had a late night last night (Sunday)...studying,” he said. Paul is currently studying for a degree in physiotherapy in UCD.

After a year when he and brother Gary shot to stardom following their Olympic heroics, it was the Cork brothers who rose above everyone else to add the 2016 Irish Independent Sport Star of the Year award to the collection.

Olympic silvers and world gold are sitting on their granny’s mantelpiece in west Cork and this latest award will surely take pride of place too.

Another man trying to balance stardom with college is fellow UCD

student Joey Carbery, who was recognised alongside Waterford hurler Austin Gleeson with the 2016 Irish

Independent Padraig Power Young Sportstar of the Year award.

Having been involved in the historic victory over the All Blacks in Chicago, Joey might have to get used to picking up awards.

“It’s happened all very quickly but I’m loving every minute of it...this is probably my first proper one so it’s pretty cool to be invited and I feel privileged to be here,” he explained.

“I’m in college at the moment in UCD. It’s very busy, especially now with exams and stuff, to get the head down and get it done,” he added.

A montage of the sporting moments of 2016 gave more than 200 guests the opportunity to relive Robbie Brady’s goal against the Italians, Conor McGregor becoming a two- weight UFC world champion and the unprecedented success of Dundalk in Irish soccer amongst dozens more major moments.

It’s been one of Ireland’s most successful years, according to Olympic sailing silver medallist Annalise Murphy. Even with all of her successes, she’s been humbled by the recognition.

“It’s been pretty crazy, it’s been amazing and a dream come true to win an Olympic silver medal and to be recognised for it is just great,” she said.

“I’ve got to go to all these great awards and nights. It’s different and not something that I expected at all, because in my mind I’m just doing the sport that I love and hoping to do my best.

“What’s really special is that we’re good in so many different sports and have excelled in so many.

“I think it’s probably one of the best years for Irish sport,” she added.

Her views were echoed by legendary racehorse trainer Willie Mullins – who had one particular moment in mind.

“It’s been a fantastic year for Irish sport, if you look at what our rugby team did, what our soccer team did, what Dundalk did,” he said.

“I suppose Ireland beating the All Blacks in America...it was fantastic for Irish sport to do that,” he added.

With the highs come the lows, none more so than the one that came about outside of the sporting realm, with the death of Munster head coach, Anthony Foley. His sister Orla was on hand last night as the hugely popular coach was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“We just want to thank everyone and I’d like to thank the Irish Independent for having us here and honouring our brother with this very special award, it means a lot and it helps in our grief,” she said.

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