By Jennifer O'Leary
AS MY 2018 Barryroe Co-Op calendar is already flipped over to December, the advent calendar is now also sitting pretty on my mantelpiece. As I chomp on the first chocolate that lies hidden beneath day number one, I reflect on what has been an amazing year for Irish women in sport.
With overwhelming victories dominating the headlines of newspapers and successes of women in sport creating an online media frenzy, I’ve picked five female achievements that have captured my imagination and admiration in 2018.
Cora Staunton’s autobiography – This is certainly going to be a popular stocking-filler for sporting enthusiasts this Christmas and is already placed in hiding in my house, ready to be wrapped as a gift to myself! A sporting icon and an influential woman in sport, there isn’t much that Staunton hasn’t achieved in her sporting career.
She is already after making a serious impact in Sydney playing AFL with the Greater Western Sydney Giants, winning the accolade of Goal of the Year as well as making a notable impact with her unique kicking style on the oval pitch. Her influence was so apparent that she has returned for a second season.
We are all very aware of Cora’s awesome ability as a ladies’ Gaelic footballer with Mayo and how she has won the admiration of young players across the country, but now her autobiography, ghost-written by Cork’s Mary White (who penned Relentless, the story of the Cork team) puts her on a pedestal for being the first ladies’ GAA player to release a book of its kind. She has made history and will inspire others to make a similar move, to highlight their achievements and receive the recognition they are so deserving of.
There seems to be no stopping this woman, and no doubt in 2019 she will help build an even bigger profile for women in sport.
Cork camogie – With both senior and intermediate camogie teams bringing back the All-Irelands in exciting fashion, we also experienced success with the minor camogie team achieving All-Ireland success in April against Galway.
One of the many stars to shine from this minor team was Saoirse McCarthy, who was also impressive in Croke Park when she helped the intermediates to defeat Down after many years of heartache. Camogie appears healthy and strong in the county and this is reassuring to know after moving away from the county five years ago!
A highlight from the Cork camogie panel for me was the growing talent of Chloe Sigerson, who has recently been nominated for the RTÉ Sportsperson of the Year Award. Her long-range free-taking ability was incredible to watch and, for someone so young and relatively new to the senior starting 15, she exudes a quiet confidence that reassures us that she will be one to watch in the coming year once again.
The Cork camogie board are working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure these girls are achieving and reaching their potential and the professionalism Paudie Murray brings to the set-up means other teams are trying hard to emulate his approach to success.
Kellie Harrington – The name on everyone’s lips over the last decade has been Katie Taylor, with no other serious female boxer even coming close to her boxing prowess.
However, over the past couple of years there has been a talented young lady who has been working tirelessly to achieve world championship gold behind the scenes. In 2016, she won silver in the world championships and, while many would find it difficult to return to the hard grind after this disappointment, she decided to drop from 64kg to 60kg into the lightweight category. This was a category dominated by Katie Taylor before she turned professional. Many have said this 28-year-old was always an excellent fighter, so versatile and hardworking, but she wasn’t able to shine or find the limelight because of Taylor’s popularity and dominance. Well now is her time to shine and the light she emits is almost blinding. Finally winning world boxing gold in the recent championships in India, she is now a hero in Irish sport. She is only the third Irish boxer ever to win world championship gold with Conlon and Taylor the previous winners.
This girl is only finding her feet. The Olympics in Tokyo are now calling.
Sarah Healy – At 17 years of age, this incredible athlete won the gold double at the European U18 Athletics Championships in Hungary this summer.
The runner from Dublin achieved her first gold in the 3000m race, where she was 11 seconds faster than second in the field. Having tasted sweet success, her appetite for more resulted in her winning a further gold in the 1500m, where she smashed the current European championship time by three seconds.
Having watched the race, it was very clear to see that she had more energy and stamina left in the tank compared to her opponents, who lay on the ground struggling to recover from the gruelling pace set by Healy.
In the meantime, Sarah celebrated and gave interviews with relative ease considering she just ran 1.5 kilometres in just four minutes and almost 19 seconds! How this athlete grabbed my attention mostly was how she spoke in one of her post-race interviews. At 17 years of age, she is facing her Leaving Cert year and undoubtedly this will present many challenges in striking a balance in her studies and sport.
However, I was delighted to hear her say that she thinks it’s important to have her running as well as her studies. Admitting that school must come first, she welcomes the break running can give her and intends on pursuing both challenges as the year progresses.
She is someone every young person should listen to as she highlights that with hard work you can do everything you want to do, you can enjoy exercise and still achieve what you wish in school. Both go hand in hand and many who apply themselves to both actually do better in school.
The Irish women’s hockey team – ‘I am not in the habit of repeating myself,’ was a line from one of the many comical characters in Killinaskully.
Having written about this squad recently, I wasn’t sure if I could broach the subject once again.
However, the Irish women’s hockey team’s success in the World Cup is surely worthy of constant written repetitions.
This amazing group of believers overcame the odds that were tightly stacked against them by winning a silver medal in the biggest hockey competition of their lives in August of 2018 – a feat never achieved by any Irish hockey team.
Facing the dominance of the Netherlands in the final, they never allowed their opponents to force them to drop their heads or give up. They kept their game plan going right to the final whistle. There were no tears of devastation at the end of the fourth quarter, it was celebration for what they had achieved.
With their world ranking now sitting at eighth, this formidable year for women’s hockey captured the hearts of the nation and were the sports story of the summer of 2018.