16th January 2012
Top Northern Ireland Sports Awards Salutes Local Heroes
Golfing super hero Darren Clarke and winner in 2011 of golf’s oldest and most distinguished major, The Open, was named ‘Sports Star of the Year’ at the 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland backed Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards held at the Ramada Plaza on 16th January.
Hall of Fame honours were awarded to British and Irish Lions rugby legend Michael Gibson MBE, who joins Hall of Fame sporting icons such as Jack Kyle, AP McCoy, Dame Mary Peters, Maeve Kyle, Pat Jennings, Paddy Hopkirk, Sean O’Neill and Willie John McBride.
Michael captained both Ulster and Ireland and in an international rugby career which spanned 15 years, he achieved 69 Ireland caps and celebrated a record five Lions’ Tours including their famous 1971 winning tour in New Zealand.
Dungannon golfer Darren Clarke, who previously won the top gong at the Telegraph Sports Awards in 1998 and 2006, sealed Northern Ireland’s reputation as golfing capital of the world when he triumphed at The Open Championship in Sandwich becoming the region’s third winner of a golf ‘major’ in just13 months. As Northern Ireland’s Sports Star of the Year 2011 Darren joins fellow golfers Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy who won in 2010 and 2009 respectively and also other sporting legends Peter Canavan, David Healy, AP McCoy, Phillip McCallen, David Healy and Wendy Houvenaghel.
Sports Star of the Year, Darren was named runner up at the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards just prior to Christmas and was also awarded an OBE in the recent New Year’s Honours list. The Royal Portrush Golf Club member has also helped bring the prestigious Irish Open Championship to the famous North Coast course following the recent announcement that Royal Portrush will host the Irish Open in June 2012. Due to playing commitments in South Africa, Darren was unable to attend the awards evening but recorded a special message for guests and his trophy was collected by proud fiancé Alison Campbell.
The 2011 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, sponsored by Linwoods and supported by Sport Northern Ireland, were held at Belfast’s Ramada Plaza Hotel and honoured sporting heroes from both the amateur and professional fields.
Also receiving top awards were local football team, Linfield who clinched their fifth league and cup double in the last 6 years and took the Team of the Year title, Player of the Year and Rugby World Cup star hooker, Rory Best and talented young Coleraine rower Peter Chambers who won the George Best Breakthrough Award. The 21 year old who is currently bidding for a place at London 2012 was unable to collect his award due to training commitments abroad and his trophy was picked up by his parents Eric and Gillian Chambers. Paired up with Kieran Emery in the Lightweight Pairs category, Peter rowed for GB at the Under-23 World Championships in Amsterdam winning a gold medal and went on to repeat the feat at the World Championships in Slovenia.
This year’s Special Recognition Award was presented to road racing star Michael Dunlop who in 2011 achieved his most successful season to date. The 22 year old Ballymoney rider clinched a memorable treble at the Ulster GP and won his second Isle of Man TT by taking victory in the Superstock race. Michael is currently the fastest Irishman around the tough 37 ¾ miles TT mountain circuit and also the UGP circuit at Dundrod.
GAA Council Secretary Danny Murphy received the WJ ‘Paddy’ Patterson Award for Services to Sport which is annually presented by the Northern Ireland Sports Forum. Danny who represented his native Burren in football and nearby Warrenpoint in hurling during the 1970’s was lauded for his 28 year contribution to the GAA and the many significant initiatives implemented which have brought the sport to a new level.
Highly successful Swansea City manager Brendan Rodgers collected the Manager/ Coach of the Year trophy following his triumph as Swansea’s first manager to lead the Welsh team to Premier League status. The Disability Needs backed Sports Star with a Disability was awarded for the second consecutive year to 100m and 200m athlete Sally Brown from Ballykelly. Sixteen year old Sally has competed in both disabled and non disabled competitions and in 2011 won bronze at the IPC World Championships (Seniors) in New Zealand.
This year’s Local Heroes award was presented to Cookstown and Ireland Hockey player Ian Sloan. Seventeen year old Ian, the son of former hockey internationals Martin and Adele Sloan, became the first schoolboy in years to join Ireland’s senior international team and was part of the Eurohockey Nations Cup campaign where he helped Ireland achieve a fifth place finish.
Record breaking Leander Swimming Club member Sycerika McMahon won the Young Player of the Year trophy marking a hugely successful year when she picked up 2 gold and a silver at the Junior Championships in Belgrade smashing her own Junior Irish Record in 400m freestyle and setting a new Irish record in the 50m breaststroke. Sycerika also achieved a 5 medal haul at this year’s Commonwealth Youth Games in the Isle of Man. Lurgan College 1st XI Girls Hockey team picked up the Young Team of the Year accolade after winning a grand slam of girls’ hockey trophies last season.
Maeve McKeefry, Brand Manager for Linwoods said, “One of the biggest and most important celebrations of sport in Northern Ireland, Linwoods is proud to sponsor the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards for a second year. The gala awards are the perfect launch for an exciting Olympic year ahead and a great platform to wave the flag for healthy living. As producers of award winning healthy Superfoods, Linwoods is delighted to honour our sporting heroes and to promote healthier more active lifestyles in Northern Ireland too.
“The line-up for this year’s awards has been enthralling and we’re delighted to see so many new faces doing well and are proud too of our more seasoned sports people who shone ever more brightly in the world of sport.
“Linwoods have thoroughly enjoyed being part of the awards, every step of the way and on behalf of the company I would like to congratulate all the short-listed nominees and celebrate the success of all the amazing winners.”
Dominc Walsh, Chairman of Sport Northern Ireland said, “Sport Northern Ireland is once again extremely proud to support the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards. The event gives us the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the tremendous wealth of sporting talent from right across Northern Ireland in this very exciting Olympic year. As the lead agency for developing sport in Northern Ireland we are dedicated to working with sport from grass roots right through to high performance.
“Sport continues to provide us with inspirational and invaluable moments and generates a wide range of social, economic and cultural benefits. We would also like to acknowledge the tremendous work of our community volunteers. Individuals such as coaches, administrators and parents who give freely of their time to make sport at a local level, happen in Northern Ireland. Volunteers enable our young people and elite athletes alike to avail of the opportunities to get started and become committed to their sports.
“The winners and finalists at this year’s Sports Awards are evidence that the right systems exist in Northern Ireland to deliver world class performances and participation opportunities. All those who play their part are to be congratulated.”
Congratulating the winners Sports Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín said, I welcome this opportunity to celebrate the hard work and dedication of our leading sportsmen and women. We have much to be proud of, whether we look at the local level or the international level, everyone involved is playing their part in showing the world that we can achieve in sport at the highest level.”