HERE we are, the final of Best in the West, our search for West Cork’s greatest sportsperson, thanks to Access Credit Union.
We are down to two – rallying legend Keith Cronin from Ballylickey and Ireland’s fastest-ever woman Phil Healy from Ballineen. Both have taken out some big guns on their way to Saturday’s Best in the West final (Cronin beat Bill Daly in his semi-final, Healy got the better of Paul O’Donovan) which will be held on sports editor Kieran McCarthy’s Twitter page (@KieranMcC_SS).
This is a clash of two speed merchants. Cronin is the fastest West Cork man in a car, while Healy is the fastest West Cork person on the track (and on two legs!). Their CVs are stacked. Cronin has won four British Rally Championship titles amongst many other accolades and is regarded as one of the country’s best-ever rally drivers, while Healy is a multiple national record holder, the fastest woman in Ireland and on target for next year’s Olympic Games.
Here are some predictions ahead of the Best in the West final:
‘I’m going for Phil because it’s seldom that we get Irish sprinters competing in World and European events. When you consider too that the funding in athletics in this country is so little, her achievements are truly amazing. Phil, I believe, will be the first West Cork person to represent Ireland at the Olympics in a track event. Keith’s achievements in rallying are brilliant but solo athletics is one of the toughest to break in to and your mental determination has to be incredible’ – John Caulfield, Cork City FC legend
‘I’m backing Keith as he has proven his ability numerous times to take the battle to the world-class stars as a total underdog’ – Cal McCarthy, rally driver
‘Two highly-accomplished sportspeople and it’s very hard to pick a potential winner, but perhaps Phil to dip at the finish line to win a very tight race’ – Nollaig Cleary, Cork football legend
‘I’m undecided! While Phil has put my sport on the map in West Cork, Keith was a local hero for me growing up and showed me that you can achieve internationally in your sport regardless of where you’re from. I’d be happy to see either take the crown of Best in the West’ – Darragh McElhinney, athlete
‘I think the final will be like the semi-finals and go down to the wire. Both Phil and Keith have performed on the international sporting stage, but I think Keith might edge a win in a very tight contest, if for no other reason that he has strong Adrigole connections! – Joe Blake, Cork GAA PRO
‘From the outset I said Phil should win this. She’s a current star, a future superstar, will be an Olympian, a current Irish record holder and could be for a long time yet – the sky is her limit! – Laura Guest, former Ireland & Munster rugby international
‘Two outstanding sportspeople but I’ll have to go with Phil. Being the fastest Irish woman ever recorded is an amazing feat and that takes some beating’ – Pat Prendergast, Bandon & Carbery goalkeeper
‘It’s impossible to choose between these two great local sportspeople, and I think the winner will be the one who has the most night owls in their voting crew!’ – Colm O’Driscoll, Tadhg MacCarthaigh and Carbery footballer
‘Both would be worthy winners so it comes down to choice of sports and, for me, Phil’s athletic performances have been unbelievable so she gets my vote’ – Ian Kingston, West Cork Kickboxing Club & Ireland coach
‘I know Keith has done wonders for motorsport in West Cork but I have to go for Phil. She has been phenomenal, breaking the 100m and 200m Irish records. She's also been such an inspiration to younger generations, especially females. A lot of young kids want to be as fast as Phil and I think it's fantastic to have such an inspirational female role model in West Cork’ – Martina O’Brien, Cork football goalkeeper
‘Keith Cronin’s domination of the British Rally Championship probably made him the most successful West Cork man in the UK since Michael Collins but, for me, sports like athletics, golf, football, etc., the levels of participation world-wide makes them a bit different. Phil is operating in that arena and in an aspect of it, sprinting, where Ireland wouldn’t have the best tradition. She has dominated the national scene, she is the fastest Irish woman ever over both 100m and 200m. She was in the top 50 in the World in both the 200m and 400m at one stage, a phenomenal achievement when you actually think of it. She has a great attitude and is a fabulous role model for young sportspeople in West Cork – and she gets my vote’ – Paul Holland, former Clonakilty football manager
‘Phil gets my vote. She’s the fastest woman in the country and she’ll pip Keith at the post!’ – Orla Cronin, Cork camogie
‘It’s a tough one seeing as both have made a name for themselves nationally and further afield. My vote is going to Phil. My interest in track athletics might make me a little biased here, but I think what she has achieved in the sport is phenomenal, especially the national records’ – Michael Hurley, Cork footballer
‘They are two great sportspeople but as someone involved in ladies sport and as a former member of Bandon AC myself, I have to give the nod to Ireland’s fastest-ever woman, the Ballineen bullet Phil Healy. She’s a fantastic athlete and female role model – and the best is still to come’ – Brian Cotter, West Cork LGFA PRO
‘For me, it’s Phil. She's a great ambassador for women in sport and especially in West Cork. She shows young people that you can achieve your sporting goals along with continuing your education. I would nearly describe her as a silent sprinter, she's incredibly modest and comes out with some memorable moments on the track which has the whole world talking’ – Martina Collins, Dohenys GAA
‘For me, Keith will just reach the chequered flag just before Phil, as he is four-time British Rally Championships winner, which is no mean feat – and that’s quick reflexes, ultimate concentration and zero margin for error from the minute you sit into the car’ – Mike Doolan, Drinagh Rangers FC