LAST weekend’s 20th annual Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star Awards gala banquet in Rosscarbery provided an opportune milestone at which to reflect on how the calibre of sports people in the area has risen to such high levels in recent years. Given the number of national, European and world champions West Cork has produced in recent years, it’s true to say that the area is punching well above its weight in terms of sporting achievements.
We have had world champions during the last century, including legendary wrestler Dan O’Mahony from Ballydehob, but these have been few and far between. The first Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star of the Year award for 1998 went to ladies’ bowling world champion Gretta Cormican and, in subsequent years, the number of West Cork world champions has grown in other sports as diverse as rowing and kickboxing.
Heretofore, Gaelic games had dominated sport in West Cork, but this has waned somewhat with only one All-Ireland win for the Cork senior footballers during the two decades of these awards. If anything, the ladies’ football and camogie teams have been showing the men how it’s done and have the awards to reflect this, with camogie star Jennifer O’Leary among the select few who have won the overall West Cork Sports Star of the Year award twice – the others being Olympic rowers Eugene Coakley and Timmy Harnedy.
Other sports that have produced overall winners over the years include ladies’ and gents’ Gaelic football, rugby, athletics, ultra-marathon running, Paralympics discus throwing, motorsport, distance swimming and three-day eventing. What this shows is the high level of achievement by our local sports sportspeople in such a diverse range of disciplines.
It would be fair to say that, if it wasn’t for these awards, many of those achievements might have gone under the radar. Most of the winners have remarked that, for them, the local recognition in winning a West Cork Sports Star award ranks above national or international awards because you are being honoured by your own people who appreciate the sacrifices you made and it allows them to share in the glory of your sporting achievement, rising above any petty begrudgery a minority might harbour.
The awards are notable too for the number of women who have won the overall annual accolade with eight of the 19 so far going to female athletes, which reflects the increased involvement of women in sports locally. All of our winners have been performing at the highest levels in their chosen sporting disciplines and are great role models for the younger people of the area.
In recent years, as well as the monthly and annual West Cork Sports Star awards, additional awards have been added, including the Hall of Fame – which have honoured local sporting greats such as Riobard O’Dwyer (athletics), Declan Barron (Gaelic football), Tim Crowley (hurling), Christy Mullins (bowling), Bertie Smith (rugby) and John Caulfield (soccer).
As well as Team of the Year and Club of the Year awards, there is also a quarterly West Cork Youth Sports Star Award – early winners of which have gone on to excel in adult ranks, such as Lily De La Cour (kickboxing), Emma Spillane (ladies’ football) and Fionn Lyden (sailing). The steady stream of up-and-coming young athletes will ensure that the Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star Awards, run in conjunction with The Southern Star and c103, will have plenty of talent to choose from and to reward for another 20 years at least – and, indeed, long may they last.