IT was a moment that captured how lucky sports fans are in West Cork these times.
The clock had ticked past midnight into Sunday morning when Paul O’Donovan, sporting his new, longer hairstyle – ‘I’m too busy to get it cut,’ he offered up – had weaved his way from the banquet hall in the Celtic Ross to the reception area when he bumped into Phil Healy going the opposite direction.
Here was the three-time world rowing champion, a former winner of the overall West Cork Sports Star Award in 2016 (alongside his brother Gary) with Ireland’s fastest ever woman, the queen of Irish athletics and the newly-crowned West Cork Sports Star for 2018.
Two amazing athletes. Both on top of their respective games. Both the best in the country (and Paul’s the best in the world, too). Both, touch wood, should qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. And both are fabulous ambassadors for West Cork.
Paul and Gary have never made any secret how proud they are of their Lisheen roots and their Skibbereen Rowing Club upbringing. Phil has put Ballineen and Bandon AC on the map.
Their respective sports and busy lives see them operate in difference circles – but they were brought together by the Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star Awards on Saturday week.
These awards are special. They mean something. There’s an energy about them. Special guest Alan Brogan was blown away by the quality of the monthly winners and award winners.
‘And there’s not even a footballer here, and we’re in West Cork, the home of football,’ he mused.
Then he was informed that West Cork is home to a lot more talented sportspeople than just footballers.
On the night, we celebrated monthly winners in basketball, athletics, rugby, hockey, soccer, golf, rowing, camogie, hurling and road bowling, the variety again highlighting the quality of local sportspeople across a wide spectrum of sports.
This is an amazing region for sport. And the West Cork Sports Star Awards understand this sports-mad pocket better than anyone else. That’s why they’ve been going strong for 21 years – and they’re growing still.
Phil Healy’s coach, Shane McCormack, has been to many awards events, but these were different.
‘Yer onto something really special here. This is fantastic,’ Shane said.
Don Hurley, one half of the Drinagh Rangers management team – Drinagh were crowned 2018 West Cork Sports Team of the Year – was equally effusive, delighted that his team got to share in an awards ceremony that included an Olympic silver medallist and the fastest Irish woman of all time.
But Drinagh, this small, rural soccer club, shared the same stage as Paul O’Donovan and Phil Healy. They were all equals on the night. Deservedly so. Drinagh’s exploits earned them that honour. And that’s the beauty of these awards, they recognise the best in West Cork sport and celebrate their achievements.
Before Paul, who had won the Irish indoor rowing title earlier that day, made his exit out the front door, he took time to stand in for photos with Ted Hegarty and his band of road bowling supporters, and the Drinagh Rangers squad.
The West Cork Sports Star Awards helped make these special moments happen, like Drinagh goalkeeper Rob Oldham taking a selfie with Paul for his daughter at home who is a huge O’Donovan brothers’ fans.
Small moments that last a lifetime. Like the image of Paul and Phil together, two of our finest who haven’t forgotten where they come from.
The started here at home, and while their lives will take them on a journey, they’ll finish here at home too, all the time sharing that WestCorkness we’re all so proud of.
It’s a great time to be a sports fan in West Cork.
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