ONE glance at this year's list of Celtic Ross Hotel West Cork Sports Star Award winners represents a timely reminder of the strength of women's sport in our region.
Children need heroes. Nowadays, more than ever. To have a plethora of local and international women’s sports stars emerging from the West Cork region is something special and should not be taken for granted.
Four of the five overall winners at this year's West Cork Sports Star Awards were women or women’s teams. For any young child living in West Cork, boy or girl, to have so many female sporting heroes showing what's possible in their respective disciplines is something to be cherished.
The days of paying lip-service to women in sport at the highest level are long gone or at least they should be. Nowadays, women are being hailed in the local and international press for their sporting professionalism, dedication, talent and success.
In terms of equality, yes, there is still a long way to go but things are changing, albeit slowly.
Monday's announcement that the English FA had signed a landmark multimillion pound deal with Sky Sports and the BBC for the broadcast rights to the Women's Super League (soccer) was another important step. The deal will run for three years and be worth £8 million a season to competing clubs. It is the biggest broadcast deal of any professional women's football league of its kind anywhere in the world.
Yet, it is only four years since the Republic of Ireland women's senior international players were forced to go public with a long list of grievances about the FAI. The lack of a proper international football kit, having to change those kits in the public toilets of various airports and, worst of all, returning their tracksuits for use by other women's teams after an international match was utterly humiliating.
It shouldn't have come to it but widespread media coverage and subsequent condemnation forced a change. Thankfully, conditions surrounding the Irish senior international women's set-up have since improved. Lo and behold, once the FAI were forced to address a long list of issues, improved Republic of Ireland women's international performances and results duly followed.
Phil Healy grabbed all the headlines from the recent virtual event and rightly so. The biggest sprint in Irish athletics right now deservedly took home her second West Cork Sports Star of the Year award following a terrific year in 2020. Three national senior titles and a new 200-metre indoor personal best were the highlights. What a year and what an athlete.
Yet, the genuine shock and surprise expressed by Healy on news that she had won her second West Cork Sports Star Award showed another important side to the Irish international athlete: humility.
The fact Bríd Stack was on hand to announce Phil Healy as the overall winner represented another reminder of Cork's ability to produce world-class sporting personalities.
An 11-time All-Ireland winner, Stack made headlines in January after suffering a horrific neck injury whilst making her Australian Rules debut for the Greater Western Sydney Giants. Her season may be over but the professional manner in which Stack handled a potentially career-ending situation and expressed her emotions so eloquently via her Irish Examiner dispatches reaffirmed the former Cork senior as the top-class athlete and sporting personality she has always been.
The former All-Star spoke passionately about a range of topics at the virtual awards. More importantly, Stack's admiration for this year's award winners was mirrored by her belief that those receiving West Cork Sports Star trophies were doing so on merit.
Having grown up in small parish and playing for what was deemed, at the time, a small club in St Val's, Stack could easily relate to West Cork and Courcey Rovers' 2020 triumphs.
A first-ever Cork LGFA senior football title was ample reward for the West Cork division in 2020. That success didn't happen overnight. It took five years of hard graft and complete dedication on top of each West Cork player and management team's club and inter-county commitments before Mourneabbey were finally toppled.
Courcey Rovers' first-ever Cork camogie senior title was equally impressive. A club that had come close one occasion in the recent past, picked themselves back up and redoubled their efforts to overcome previous conquerors, Inniscarra. Rovers' Special Achievement award and West Cork's Team of the Year equivalent were deserving accolades for two such dedicated and committed groups of athletes.
Yet another rising sports star, Bandon Athletic Club's Nicola Tuthill, took home the Junior Sports Star award and is another athlete to watch out for in the coming years.
We live in difficult times so the success of our athletes and sports personalities, be they men or women, on the local and international stages has never been more important. Long may those successes continue.