Meet the heroes in the running to be crowned West Cork's top star

January 20th, 2017 8:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

Flying the flag: Skibberen Rowing Club's Gary and Paul O'Donovan celebrate winning a silver medal in men's lightweight rowing at the Olympic Games in Rio last August.

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Ahead of the biggest awards night in West Cork sport this Saturday, KIERAN McCARTHY profiles the 15 monthly award winners from 2016 and explains why it was such a special year for these local stars

Anna O’Neill (January winner): She’s the Ballinacarriga athlete who regularly competed against Catherina McKiernan and Sonia O’Sullivan on the cross-country circuit in the mid 1990s and the Doheny Athletic Club member picked up the first monthly award of the year for her heroics at the Munster Senior and Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships in Nenagh in January. That day, this masters’ athlete raced to a hat-trick of wins – in the O45 women’s 800m (2.45.75), 1,500m (5.33.04) and 3,000m (11.23.1), the last time being a new Munster record.


Darren Sweetnam (February): 2016 was a breakthrough year for this former Doheny hurler and it got off to a great start when he made his first competitive start for Munster away to Zebre in Round 13 of the Guinness PRO12 – that was a pivotal moment for the ex-Cork hurler. Darren (23) kept his place for the next six games and scored his first try against Cardiff. This season (2016/17) he has kicked on even more, an ever-present for Munster before picking up a knee injury before Christmas that will see him sidelined until mid February. 


Phil Healy (April): Meet the Bandon AC athlete who made world-wide headlines for her astonishing come-from-behind victory at the Irish University Track and Field Championships in Morton Stadium in April. Running the anchor leg for UCC in the 4x400m relay final, the Ballineen bullet (a 100m and 200m specialist) came from fifth place and 80 metres off the lead when she got her hands on the baton on the final lap to producing the most mesmerising run, emerging from ‘the depths of hell’ to snatch victory as she collapsed across the line. The video of her run went viral and has been viewed over three million times on Youtube alone.


Conor Hourihane (April): These days the Bandon man is one of the most wanted footballers across channel with his excellent form for Barnsley earning him two Republic of Ireland senior call-ups, the EFL Championship Player of the Month for August award and a rising profile – but back in April, Conor won a monthly West Cork Sports Star Award for captaining Barnsley to Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final glory against Oxford at Wembley, becoming the first West Cork man to achieve the feat. A month later he captained the Tykes to the EFL League 1 Play-off final win against Millwall, again at Wembley, as Barnsley won promotion to the EFL Championship.


Gary & Paul O’Donovan (May): Little did we know back in May what lay ahead of these Lisheen brothers, and they got their Olympic year off to the best possible start by being crowned men’s lightweight double sculls champions at the European Rowing Championships on Beetzsee Lake in Brandenburg. In difficult crosswind conditions, the Skibbereen Rowing Club duo beat former world champions Norway and Germany to claim gold for Ireland. Having won silver at the World Cup Regatta in Varese the previous month, this highlighted their upward trajectory in an Olympic year.


John Cullinane (July): A living legend in Goleen GAA, Cullinane was a hugely popular winner of July’s monthly award after his terrific performance against Abbey Rovers in the Cork junior C football final in Brinny as he inspired his team to county success on their greatest day ever – it was the club’s first-ever county title. Veteran Cullinane was the hero, taking charge of the final in the second half and finishing with six points from play in this 1-13 to 3-5 triumph.


Gary & Paul O’Donovan (August): They left Skibb in July as two rowers, they returned home as national heroes. The O’Donovan brothers captured the hearts of the nation and beyond with their performances – on the water and in front of the cameras – at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Impressive races in the heat and semi-final saw Gary and Paul in medal contention for the A final on August 11th. A nation held its breath – and they delivered, pulling like dogs and winning silver medals in the men’s lightweight double sculls, Ireland’s first-ever rowing medals at the Olympics.


Orla Finn (September): What an amazing year 2016 was for this Kinsale GAA attacker as she starred for a Cork team that won league, Munster and All-Ireland titles, and Orla deservedly picked up the monthly award for September after the Rebels beat Dublin in the All-Ireland final in Croke Park. Cork’s top scorer last season, she grabbed her chance in 2016 and was a key reason the Cork ladies team are still number one. She also picked up her first All-Star award. Not only that, she also inspired Kinsale ladies to Cork and Munster junior football titles and an All-Ireland final appearance.


Darragh Coakley (September): Kilbree’s Captain Fantastic led by example as the club won its first-ever South West junior A hurling championship crown in what also was their first time in the divisional A decider. Coakley was man-of-the-match in the semi-final win against Dohenys and the final triumph against St Colum’s as he helped bring the Flyer Nyhan Cup to Rossmore for the first time, and later in the year he also won a Carbery GAA Hurling All-Star.


Darren Crowley (October): It’s a year that Darren will never forget as he captained the Bandon hurling team that won the 2016 Cork PIHC title and won promotion back to the senior ranks. Bandon beat Charleville, Watergrasshill, Kilworth, Mallow and Fermoy in the championship, with Crowley front and centre and playing a real captain’s role. The club’s hurling final win was the first leg of a county double with the footballers following suit the next weekend.


Pat Prendergast (October): The Macroom-based Garda is getting used to these monthly awards, having also picked up one in 2015 – but that just highlights the ongoing success of Bandon’s footballers. Pat (36) was captain and goalkeeper as Bandon won the 2016 Cork IFC title, beating Rockchapel in the county final in Páirc Uí Rinn, as they also won promotion to the premier intermediate grade for 2017.  


Keith Cronin (October): Becoming only the second driver to ever win both the Irish and British motosport championships, Keith raced to 2016 Irish Tarmac Championship glory late last year. The Ballylickey man has won the British Rally Championship three times and his fourth-place finish in the Cork ‘20’ International Rally guaranteed him the Irish title. He became the first Cork driver in 32 years, since Billy Coleman, to win this particular championship.


James Fitzpatrick (October): The Carbery Rangers’ midfielder is assured of his place in local GAA history as the first man to lead the Rosscarbery club to the Cork senior football title, an historic first for the club. Cork’s most consistent football club finally reached the Promised Land in October 2016, beating Ballincollig in the final to spark massive celebrations in Ross and, finally, see the club reach the number one spot in Cork football.


Mark Cronin (November): In his first year as captain, Mark had a dream season as Gabriel Rangers, who were manager-less in February, conquered both Carbery and Cork to win junior A football titles in their home division and then county, before they reached the Munster junior football final in December. Mark, a key attacker for Gabriels, played some of the best football of his career in this great run and he also picked up a Carbery GAA Football All-Star for his efforts.


John Caulfield (November): The club legend who delivered on the field for Cork City is also delivering off the field as the club’s manager, and he masterminded City’s dramatic 1-0 extra-time FAI Cup final win against league champions Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium. This could prove to be a turning point for City who had finished second in the league again, behind Dundalk who had also beaten them in the 2015 FAI Cup final. It’s onwards and upwards for Ballineen man Caulfield and City.

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