Sportstar Awards 2018

Sportstar of the Year

Aidan OBrien winner of the Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year 2017 Photos
Aidan OBrien winner of the Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year 2017

January

 

John Cooney (Rugby)

The Ulster scrum half sparked his side’s second half comeback as they came from 17 points down to stun Munster.

It was the latest in a long line of fine performances from Cooney, who has been Ulster’s best player this season.

The 27-year-old had big boots to fill when he was signed to replace cult hero Ruan Pienaar but the Dubliner has slotted in seamlessly.

Cooney’s unerring accuracy with the boot has been a major plus for Ulster and he will hope that he can force his way into Ireland’s Six Nations squad.

Ed Joyce (Cricket)

Ed Joyce kept a cool head under the Dubai sun to hit a magnificent century and dig Ireland out of a tight spot in their four wicket victory over UAE yesterday.

After losing both Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie for ducks inside three overs, Joyce lead the recover with a 116 knock, included 13 fours and 1 six for his sixth ODI century. It also marked an impressive milestone for the 39-year-old Bray man who brought up his 10,000th List A run in another vintage performance.

Donnacha Ryan (Rugby)

Munster were in command of their crucial Pool 4 Champions Cup encounter at Racing 92's U Arena last Sunday when suddenly one of their own turned the tide in the French side's favour.

Donnacha Ryan rose highest above a number of his former team-mates to claim Remi Tales' restart in the moment that swung a see-saw contest definitively in the French side's favour as they went to claim the spoils.

The Tipperary second-row (34) was magnificent over the course of a rip-roaring 80 minutes, serving a reminder to Munster and Ireland of what they are missing this season after the swapped his home province for the Parisian big spenders.

After his excellent display, Ryan is a deserving winner of the Irish Independent Sport Star of the Week in association with the Croke Park Hotel.

Mark Allen (Snooker)

Forty years after Alex Higgins won the event for the first time, Antrim's Mark Allen captured his maiden Masters title after an extraordinary week at the Alexandra Palace.

The 31-year-old had to do things the hard way when he had to beat both Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins - who beat Ken Doherty in the 1999 decider - before booking a place in the final. There, he overcame Kyren Wilson to earn a cheque for €228,000.

After Higgins and Denis Taylor, Allen is the third Irishman to win the title in what is his first ranking crown and sets him up well for April's World Championship in Sheffield.

 

February

 

Michael Bonaparte and Aisling O'Sullivan (Basketball)

Nine months after becoming proud parents to Michael Jnr, Michael Bonaparte and Aisling O'Sullivan were celebrating respective victories at the National Cup basketball finals.

Just 24 hours after Bonaparte's Templeogue side triumphed last weekend, his partner O'Sullivan secured the women's trophy with DCU Mercy.

Bonaparte's late free-throws on Saturday stemmed the UCD Marian tide to secure the title. O'Sullivan then helped DCU to a third cup triumph on the day after U-20 and U-18 wins.

Johnny Sexton (Rugby)

With their Six Nations campaign hanging in the balance, Ireland needed something special in injury time at the Stade de France. Johnny Sexton delivered.

After directing the team through 41 phases that began with his pin -point drop-out and was marked by his excellent cross-kick to Keith Earls, Sexton - who had just receive treatment for cramp - stepped forth and delivered a long-range drop goal that won the game and sent Irish fans into ecstasy.

It was a moment that will live long in Irish sporting memories and makes Sexton a worthy winner of the Irish Independent's Sports star of the Week in association with the Croke Park Hotel.

Con O'Callaghan (GAA)

Con'Callaghan took up where he left off last year as he masterminded Cuala's victory over Liam Mellows in their AIB All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final before helping UCD book their place in the Sigerson Cup final with an extra-time victory against Ulster University.

The Dubs dynamo's first four possessions against Liam Mellows yielded three points for defending champions Cuala and the dual star then recharged his batteries in time to score two vital points as UCD finally came out on top in a marathon Sigerson thriller to book their place in the final for the third year in a row.

Dan Casey (Soccer)

Dan Casey was a talented all-round sportsman in his teens and he turned down the advances of both Leinster rugby and Dublin's Gaelic footballers to pursue his dream of becoming a professional soccer player.

It didn't quite happen for the defender at Sunderland, but he is ready for a big year with Bohemians and he started it off in the perfect way, stealing the show by scoring twice in Bohemians' 3-1 victory over Shamrock Rovers on the opening night of the new SSE Airtricity League Premier Division season.

 

March

 

Chris Farrell (Rugby)

Not only did Chris Farrell fill the considerable midfield void left by Robbie Henshaw with aplomb against Wales, his comprehensive performance earned him the man-of-the-match award on a day when there was no shortage of contenders.

In his first Six Nations start and only his third Test appearance, Farrell did the famed No 13 Ireland jersey proud; however, his elation was cut short only three days later when he picked up a season-ending injury while training for Ireland.

That may have ended his season prematurely but it cannot rob the Munster centre of his memorable day in green.

Chris Hughton (Soccer)

Brighton are in a strong position to maintain their Premier League status after a weekend win over a faltering Arsenal side that highlighted the contrast between the respective camps.

Chris Hughton's side are all pulling in the same direction and that is a testament to the work of the former Republic of Ireland full-back. Working off modest enough resources by Premier League standards, he has created a team that looks set to meet their goal of staying alive.

Davy Russell (Horse Racing)

It's been a difficult time for Davy Russell with the passing of his mother Phyllis last week but the Cork jockey showed his enduring class in the saddle to secure Cheltenham Festival winners in the opening three days.

Now a scorer at 13 consecutive Festivals, Russell produced Presenting Percy to claim the Grade One RSA Chase for Galway trainer Pat Kelly before notching a 377/1 day three treble capped by Balko Des Flos, which helped owner Michael O'Leary finally claim the Grade One Ryanair Chase, a race he sponsors.

Sean Moran (Hurling)

Cuala haven't exactly been short of heroes en route to securing back-to-back AIB All-Ireland club SHC titles, but few have been as consistent as Sean Moran during their remarkable run.

The Dalkey outfit's tenacity in defence has been a key feature during the past three seasons which have seen them claim three Dublin titles on the spin, in addition to successive Leinster and All-Ireland crowns.

Centre-back Moran brings great composure and a touch of class to the rearguard, which his long-range free taking has also been a valuable asset to Mattie Kenny's charges.

His dominant display in the final replay last weekend was the latest in a string of impressive showings and Pat Gilroy will surely be hoping Moran can continue his stellar form for the Dubs this summer.

 

April

 

Ciaran Kilkenny (Gaelic Football)

No player was more important in Dublin's charge to their fifth Allianz FL crown in six years than Ciaran Kilkenny.

Scorer of two points in their hard-fought Division 1 final defeat of Galway, Kilkenny amassed a whopping 2-20 from play during eight games and was the stand-out performer throughout the spring, with a series of sparkling displays.

The Castleknock powerhouse - equally efficient at creating or finishing - has become a central cog in Jim Gavin's all-conquering Dubs in recent seasons with his boundless energy marking him out as one of the game's finest.

TJ Reid (Hurling)

In the normal course of things, a league title hasn't been much cause for celebration for Kilkenny in the glorious Brian Cody era.

However, last weekend's final win over great rivals Tipperary suggested that the great man is building another formidable team as a host of their new faces rose to the challenge at a time when they were tipped for a period of transition.

However, it was one of their old guard that shouldered the bulk of the responsibility with TJ Reid hitting an incredible 0-15 against the Premier to help Kilkenny roll into the championship summer with a renewed sense of optimism.

Davy Russell (Horse Racing)

It didn't seem like Davy Russell's season could get much better until the red-hot Cork jockey steered Tiger Roll to a dramatic success in the Aintree Grand National to finally land the world's most famous steeplechase at the 14th attempt.

Gordon Elliot's charge completed a remarkable year for Russell, who didn't celebrate for long as he swiftly returned to Tramore the next day to land a double and continue doing what he does best.

After already being crowned Cheltenham's top jockey, the 38-year-old will life the Irish jump jockeys' championship for the third time at next week's Punchestown Festival.

Willie Mullins (Horse Racing)

From the trainers to the athletes themselves, all sporting greats come out fighting when their backs are against the wall.

Trailing Gordon Elliott in the race to secure an extraordinary 12th Irish trainers' title, the Willie Mullins stable roared back to their best on Wednesday with a 9,802/1 six-timer which wrestled control back in the race for the title.

The scintillating form of the Closutton maestro at the Punchestown Festival continued yesterday as he extended his lead over Elliott thanks to victories in the two big races with Faugheen returning to his brilliant best and Footpad later justifying odds-on favouritism in style.

 

May

 

Katie Taylor (Boxing)

Katie Taylor took another giant step in her mission to become the undisputed World lightweight champion last weekend with a convincing points win in her WBA and IBF world lightweight unification bout against Victoria Bustos in Brooklyn.

The Bray boxer was forced to go the distance but she hardly took a backward step and is now halfway to achieving her cherished ambition of winning all four belts in the 135lb division by the end of the year.

All Taylor was looking forward to after her night's work was a small slice of chocolate cake, but it could hardly have tasted sweeter than her convincing victory.

Sinead Aherne (Gaelic Football)

Captain Fantastic Sinéad Aherne scored 1-9 as Dublin won the Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 title for the first time by beating Mayo 3-15 to 1-10 at Croke Park.

Dublin manager Mick Bohan summed up the 31-year-old's superb display, declaring: "Sinead was on fire, wasn't she? Her movement was top drawer."

Sam Bennett (Cycling) & Kevin O'Brien (Cricket)

Sam Bennett became the first Irishman in 31 years to win a stage of the Giro d'Italia by out-sprinting his rivals into Praia a Mare last Friday.

And the Waterford speedster doubled up yesterday by hitting top gear at the Formula 1 circuit in Imola.

There was also history made in Malahide as Ireland did themselves proud in their first Test match against Pakistan and none more so than Kevin O'Brien whose battling but classy century saw him become the first Irish cricketer to join the honours' board of a Test match centurion.

Rory Beggan (Gaelic Football)

Never has the role of goalkeepers in Gaelic football been more important than it is in the modern game, and that was illustrated again in Omagh on Sunday when Rory Beggan turned in a man-of-the-match display to help Monaghan surprise Tyrone.

Apart from being rock-solid between the posts, the long serving Monaghan No1 was Cluxton-esque with the accuracy of his kick-outs and was hugely influential from placed balls.

In addition to converting two long-range frees in the first half, he drove over two second-half 45s against a stiff breeze - which were key in maintaining his team's momentum at critical times. The fact that the county minor team, whom he has been involved coaching, were also victorious made it a day to remember.

 

June

 

Paul Broderick (Gaelic Football)

It's probably fair to say that 12 months ago Carlow's Paul Broderick wasn't that well known outside the confines of his native county.

But his and Carlow's heroics of late have pushed the Barrowsiders firmly into the national consciousness. Their first promotion in 33 years was followed by back-to-back wins in the Leinster championship this summer with last weekend seeing Carlow beat Kildare for the first time in 65 years. Broderick was to the fore once more in that game hitting 0-11, 0-9 from play as Turlough O'Brien's men charged into a Leinster semi-final.

Phil Healy (Athletics)

She had been tipped by many to become the undisputed 100m national record holder and on Wednesday night, Phil Healy delivered on that promise in some style.

The 23-year-old Bandon sprinter took over one tenth of a second off the previous mark held by Ailis McSweeney and Amy Foster when she clocked 11.28 seconds in Santry.

Healy had been in excellent form in recent weeks and is hoping to feature in August's European Championships in Berlin over her favoured 400m distance. Just to underline the quality of her running, the Bandon sprinter clocked an outdoor 400m PB of 52.63 immediately after breaking the 100m record on Wednesday.

Peter Duggan (Hurling)

Given the drama we have witnessed so far this summer, it was perhaps fitting that the entire hurling championship turned in just 18 breathless seconds.

Tipperary hit the post at one end before Clare swept downfield to goal. And with that one of the favourites for the All-Ireland title was eliminated.

In the midst of the championship tempest the teams whipped up in Thurles, the Banner's Peter Duggan was unflappable.

He hit 0-13 from frees and chipped in with another two from play late in the day to condemn the Premier to a short summer and put Clare within touching distance of a Munster final.

Shane Walsh (Gaelic Football)

On a blustery and slippy day at Dr Hyde Park, when many of his peers were struggling with the conditions, Shane Walsh's skills shone brightest as the Tribesmen dethroned Roscommon as Connacht Kingpins.

The gifted Kilkerrin-Clonbree attacker was a delight to watch throughout; his energy, athleticism and raw speed causing Roscommon all sorts of problems in a tight encounter.

His exquisite skills with the ball - off both sides and from play and placed balls - are something to behold and they helped the 25-year-old amass a personal tally of 0-8 (5f) to remind everyone that he is one of the most devastating forwards in the country right now.

Johnny Sexton (Rugby)

The drama lasted right until the very end last Saturday in Sydney and it was fitting that stand-in captain Johnny Sexton was the one to deliver news to his players that they had won a nail-biting final Test and secured a first series win over Australia since 1979.

Sexton took over the captaincy from the injured Peter O'Mahony and guided his side through a bruising encounter, kicking the insurance score just seconds after being levelled by a thunderous Australian tackle.

At the end of a superb season, he was still going right until the very end and is a deserving winner of the Irish Independent Sports Star of the Week in association with the Croke Park Hotel.

 

July

 

Joseph and Donnacha O'Brien (Horse Racing) & Mark Coleman (Hurling)

It was a week that brothers Joseph and Donnacha from the famed O'Brien horse racing family and Cork hurling tyro Mark Coleman will never forget. Last Saturday, 14-1 shot Latrobe, which was trained by Joseph and ridden by Donnacha, beat the best of what their father Aidan had to offer to take the spoils in the Irish Derby.

Meanwhile, Coleman's star continued to rise. After a brilliant showing for the Cork Seniors as they completed back-to-back Munster titles last Sunday, he produced a man-of-the-match display for the Rebels' U-21 side on Wednesday night to pick up a second provincial medal in a matter of days and underline his status as one of the most exciting young hurlers in the country.

Sarah Healy (Athletics) & Dan Martin (Cycling)

It was a week when attacking racing paid off in spades for Sarah Healy and Daniel Martin.

The young Dublin athlete went on the offensive at the U-18 European Athletics championships to obliterate the fields and claim gold in both the 1,500m and 3,000m in Hungary.

Martin took a similar approach to claim his first stage win at the Tour de France since 2013, using all his experience to steal a march on his rivals with a blistering attack1km from the finish line at the Mur de Bretagne.

 

August

 

Nickie Quaid (Hurling) & Ayeisha McFerran (Hockey)

Two helmets, two sticks and two brilliant displays of goalkeeping in two very different codes.

Last Sunday in Croke Park, Nickie Quaid made a breathtaking stop. Cork's Seamus Harnedy looked set to dump Limerick out of the championship before Quaid's perfect intervention that proved crucial as the Treaty men progressed to their first All-Ireland final since 2007.

And then yesterday, Ireland women's hockey team progressed past India to a World Cup semi-final thanks in large part to a superb display from Ayeisha McFerran in a nail-biting penalty shootout.

Thomas Barr (Athletics)

In just under 49 seconds, Thomas Barr bridged a gap of 84 years when he took bronze at the European Championships last night.

Not since Bob Tisdall in 1932 has an Irishman won a medal at a sprint event at a major games yet the Waterford athlete took it all in his stride with a superb finish in the 400m hurdles.

"I really can't believe it," said the delighted 26-year-old afterwards, who ran the second fastest time of his career last night.

TJ Doheny (Boxing) & Rhys McClenaghan (Gymnastics)

Portlaoise boxer TJ Doheny created his own piece of history yesterday by claiming the IBF world super bantamweight title with a dramatic victory over defending champion Ryosuke Iwasa in front of a partisan Tokyo home crowd.

Compatriot Rhys McClenaghan also entered the history books in Glasgow last Sunday when the Co Down teenager become Ireland's first European champion in gymnastics by taking gold in the pommel horse event.

Kyle Hayes (Hurling)

Ultimately it was Limerick's power surge shortly after half-time that proved to be the difference as they brought Liam MacCarthy back home for the first time since 1973.

And while the Shannonsiders had several heroes on the day, no one did more in that period of dominance than Kyle Hayes.

The giant Kildimo-Pallaskenry man, 20, took the game by the scruff of the neck in that period, hitting four points across the 70 minutes as he delivered a brilliant performance beyond his years.

Brian McGrath (Hurling)

Tipperary hurling got the perfect boost after a disappointing summer when their U-21s beat Cork in a thrilling Bord Gais Energy All-Ireland U-21 Hurling final.

In what was very much a superb team effort, Brian McGrath was an outstanding anchor of a Tipp defence that simply refused to buckle against what had previously been a free-scoring Cork attack.

 

September

 

Jack McCaffrey (Gaelic Football)

After a roller-coaster 12 months, it seemed fitting that Jack McCaffrey was the man who soared highest as Dublin secured a historic fourth successive All-Ireland football title last Sunday.

The electric Clontarf wing-back was excellent against Tyrone from start to finish as he claimed the fourth All-Ireland medal of his career, his superb performance capping a remarkable season and coming just 12 months after he suffered a cruciate ligament injury early in the 2017 showpiece fixture against Mayo.

The 24-year-old trainee doctor excelled in defence and attack as Jim Gavin's Dubs ensured Sam Maguire will stay in the capital for the next 12 months, at least.

Orla Cotter (Camogie)

With the game in the melting pot, Orla Cotter had the tenacity to step up and drive Cork forward against Kilkenny in Sunday's All-Ireland senior camogie final.

The St. Catherine's sharpshooter, who was her side's top scorer with 0-5 (5fs), struck the crucial point, from long range, in added time to secure the Leesiders' 28th crown.

Lyndsey Davey (Gaelic Football), Sanita Puspure & Gary and Paul O'Donovan (Rowing)

Gary and Paul O'Donovan continue to make waves for Ireland, triumphing in the lightweight double sculls at the World Rowing Championships in Bulgaria last Saturday.

Sanita Puspure's gold at the tournament put the icing on the cake on Sunday when she cruised to victory in the women's single sculls.

Meanwhile in Croke Park that afternoon, Lyndsey Davey provided direction for the Dublin ladies when they needed a steady hand in the second half to secure All-Ireland glory.

Chris Shields (Soccer)

Chris Shields' fourth-minute goal against Cork City last Friday kick-started title celebrations in Dundalk as his side enjoyed a 1-0 win over their rivals on Leeside.

The midfielder skipped his way past a static opposition to engineer a one-two with Patrick Hoban before finding a way past goalkeeper Mark McNulty.

The 27-year-old then played his part in the Lilywhites' 3-2 victory over Derry City on Tuesday which all but secured the league triumph for the Lilywhite.

 

October

 

Donnacha O'Brien (Horse Racing)

It was another incredible weekend for Donnacha O'Brien who notched his 100th winner of the Irish Flat season at Dundalk last Friday when booting home Lost Treasure by the narrowest of margins.

Less than 24 hours later, the talented young rider followed up by completing a big-race treble for his father Aidan at Newmarket where his polished performance on the inexperienced Ten Sovereigns in the Middle Park Stakes drew widespread praise.

Fittingly, he's long odds-on to be crowned champion jockey in a few weeks' time.

Patrick Hoban (Soccer)

The Patrick Hoban goal that secured the league title for Dundalk last Friday was extra special for the Galwegian as it broke the all-time Premier Division goalscoring record.

Jason Byrne, Glen Crowe and Richie Towell had all struck 25 goals in a season since the two-tier system was introduced in 1985.

Hoban's strike against the Saints was his 26th of the season and he's still got three games left to play.

James Lowe (Rugby)

Leinster's mission to defend their European title got off to an impressive start at the RDS and, once again, Kiwi flier James Lowe was at the heart of the action

The powerful winger has started the season like a train and gave another dominant performance against Wasps, scoring two tries in a trademark all-action display.

Lowe's impressive performances have Leinster fans dreaming of further honours and make him Sports Star of the Week.

Timmy Hammersley (Hurling)

Clonoulty-Rossmore banished the demons of recentcounty final defeats, with Timmy Hammersley firing a dozen points as they ended their 21-year wait for Tipperary SHC honours.

Having waited until the 28th minute to get on the scoresheet, Hammersley proceeded to deliver a tour de force, converting frees from a variety of distances and angles.

An All-Ireland winner with Tipp in 2010, Hammersley cut an emotional figure afterwards as euphoric scenes erupted all around him displaying everything that's special about the GAA.

 

November

 

Mick Clohisey and Lizzie Lee (Athletics)

Two of Ireland's most popular long-distance athletes enjoyed national title success in last Sunday's Dublin Marathon.

Mick Clohisey (32) running his home-town marathon for the first time, crossed the line sixth in 2:15.58 to also become Irish champion, the fastest to win that title since Tommy Hughes's 2:14.46 in 1991.

An equally popular first-time Irish champion was Cork woman Lizzie Lee (38), who not only won the Irish title but also finished third overall in the women's race, in a time of 2:35.05.

Pauric Mahony (Hurling)

In the dying light of Walsh Park in Waterford last Sunday, Ballygunner fought out an epic battle with Clare champions Ballyea that required two 10-minute periods of extra time, followed by two further five-minute periods to divide them.

In the end, Pauric Mahony's almost unerring accuracy was pivotal to Ballygunner, just as it has been to Waterford for so long, advancing to a Munster senior club hurling final for the second successive year as he hit 14 points, eight from frees.

Gavin Moynihan (Golf)

The Island’s Gavin Moynihan (24) completed a month to remember when he won his European Tour card at the gruelling Final Stage ofthe European Tour Qualifying School in Spain forthe second yearrunning.

With his confidence boosted by his tied-eighth finish in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, the touring professional for Mount Juliet was a brilliant fourth at the Second Stage ofthe Q-School and then overcame a niggling back injury at the marathon, six-round Final Stage.

In the end, he had to hole a make-or-break five-foot putt on the final green to finish tied 20th on 16-under par and clinch one of 27 European Tour cards for 2019 with nothing to spare.

James Ryan (Rugby)

Ireland's win over New Zealand was a historic moment for Irish rugby and one ofthe best team performances of the Joe Schmidt era.

A host of players had stand-out games but James Ryan’s aggressive display topped the lot as he took on the world’s best players in his position and he stood tall with a superb performance.

The 22-year-old Leinster lock capped a memorable 2018 with a series of thunderous impacts that put the All Blacks on the back foot.

Kellie Harrington (Boxing)

History was created in faraway New Delhi last Saturday when Kellie Harrington became only the third Irish boxer to claim gold at the AIBA World Elite Championships.

Harrington – the 28-year-old from inner city Dublin but who boxes out of St Mary’s BC in Tallaght – topped the lightweight podium at the prestigious tournament by showing tremendous skill and no little courage to beat Thailand’s Sudaporn Seesondee on a 3-2 split decision at the Indira Gandhi Stadium.

What adds even more lustre to her gold medal is that this was Harrington’s fifth contest in eight days – underlining the enormity of her achievement as she joins Katie Taylor and Michael Conlan as a world amateur champion from this island.

Kevin Cassidy (Gaelic Football)

Having missed out on anAll-Ireland SFC medal in such public fashion in 2012, Kevin Cassidy could be forgiven if he feltlike he deserved a landmark success before the end of his playing days.

In last Sunday’s Ulster club final the 36-year-old, who has been reinvented as a full-forward in the autumn of his career, did as much as anyone to ensure Gaoth Dobhair made history and collected theirfirst provincial title.

The two-timeAll-Star chipped in with two points from play and was an inspirational figure as the Donegal men rallied to become just the second team from the county to conquer the province.