Paul O’Connell takes honours after stellar year
Former Ireland captain thanks readers who voted him Sportstar
On the day he first donned the red and black of Toulon and began his new life in the south of France, former Ireland captain Paul O'Connell was celebrated at a venue where he did some of his best work - Croke Park.
The legendary second-row was voted the winner of the prestigious Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year award in association with The Croke Park Hotel for 2015 by the readers of this newspaper and the award was collected on his behalf by his close friend Alan Quinlan at a star-studded gala dinner at the home of the GAA last night.
O'Connell saw off stiff competition from world champion boxer Michael Conlan, trainer Willie Mullins and UFC champion Conor McGregor as well as the cream of Gaelic games. He follows in the footsteps of former winners Brian O'Driscoll, Katie Taylor, Rory McIlroy and Pádraig Harrington.
However, the readers sought to vote for the 36-year-old after a stellar year in green, in which he led Ireland to a second successive Six Nations and was one of the top performers at the recent World Cup until his run was brought to a cruel conclusion when he suffered a serious hamstring injury during the win over France.
During the season, the former Lions captain won his 100th cap in the defeat to Wales at Cardiff, a day when he produced a remarkable performance, while he scored a try in the win over Scotland at Murrayfield on the dramatic day that saw Ireland claim the title.
Unfortunately, he couldn't bring his superb Munster career to a glorious close as they came up short in the Guinness Pro12 final, but he will go down as a club legend at Thomond Park.
O'Connell paid tribute to Young Sports Star of the Year award winner Leona Maguire and former Dublin footballer and Ireland soccer international Kevin Moran who has been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
While he will continue playing with Toulon when he recovers from the operation he underwent on his hamstring, his days in green are over after a brilliant career that will see him go down as one of the great Ireland captains.
"Thanks very much for the honour of Irish Independent Sports Star of the Year," he said.
"I'm very honoured and thankful to the readers for voting for me.
"It's a big honour for me to win the award, especially considering some of the other nominees; guys like Willie Mullins and Michael Conlan. So, thank you very much.
"Congratulations to Leona Maguire for winning the young Sports Star of the Year and to Kevin Moran, who is an absolute legend, on being inducted into the Hall of Fame."