The past four winners of the Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star of the Year award have all been women, and with this in mind, and to highlight the fantastic achievements of West Cork’s sporting women, KIERAN McCARTHY profiles ten of the finest local athletes who look likely to make a lasting impact on 2016
Recognised as one of the top female rowers in the country, the Skibbereen Rowing Club athlete (23), who has won 12 national championships for the club, has an outside chance of featuring at this summer’s Olympics. Walsh finished 14th in the women’s lightweight single scull at last year’s senior World Rowing Championships, after being nudged out of the lightweight double earlier in the year – that double of Claire Lambe and Sinead Jennings subsequently qualified for Rio this summer. Walsh (who represented Ireland at the Youth Olympics in 2010) is now concentrating on this weekend’s national trials where she aims to win the lightweight single, which will open the door to the World Cup regatta in Varese in April, the European Championships in May and the world championships in August. Logically, whoever wins this weekend’s trial should be back-up to the Olympic-qualified lightweight double, and, injuries considered, the door isn’t fully closed just yet.
The 20-year-old Knockaneady, Enniskeane woman won her second All-Ireland senior camogie title as an attacker with Cork in 2015. A sub in 2014, the UCC second year Biological Sciences student was a regular starter during last year’s championship, and she will be looking to kick on again this year as Paudie Murray’s team chases the three-in-a-row. Called into the Cork senior panel after completing her Leaving Cert in 2014, this young gun has taken her chance with the Rebels, softening the loss of so many established players over the last 12 months. Cronin will be expected to take her game on this season.
AINE T O’SULLIVAN
Gaelic Football, Allihies
The Beara footballer from a GAA-mad family made a dream senior inter-county debut for Cork last August when she scored 3-5 in a player-of-the-match performance against Meath in an All-Ireland qualifier win.
She went on to nail down a starting spot at full-forward for the remainder of the championship, as Cork defended their All-Ireland title, and Áine picked up her second winner’s medal, having been on the panel as an unused sub in 2014.
The UCC Management and Marketing student, who captained the college in the O’Connor Cup, showed she still has the helpful knack of scoring goals when she bagged a brace as a second-half sub in the recent league win at home to Monaghan.
With All-Ireland and league champions Cork now under new management, Áine Terry’s challenge is to make a spot in the Rebel attack her own – and given her all-round ability, she’ll have a big role to play again this year.
Gaelic Football, Ballinascarthy
She had big gloves to fill when she was handed the Cork ladies’ football number one jersey – succeeding Elaine Harte – but there is no disputing now that the Ballinascarthy woman (26) has developed into one of the top goalkeepers in the country.
Nominated for an All-Star award last season for the first time, the Tralee-based massage therapist joined the Cork senior panel in 2013 and despite being dropped for the All-Ireland final that year – Harte was given the nod, by Eamonn Ryan – she came back a stronger and better ’keeper . An incredible shot-stopper, her kickouts have also improved a lot over the last two seasons – first with former goalkeeping coach Kieran Dwyer and now Derek O’Gorman.
With All-Ireland champions Cork, under new management, expected to fight it out for the big prize against this year, another All-Star nomination and another All-Ireland are within her grasps.
The young Millcove, Rosscarbery bowler is busy training for the upcoming 15th European Championships in Ootmarsum, Holland, between May 6th and 8th after she was selected as one of four on the Irish girls’ youths’ team. Considered as one of the most talented young female bowlers in West Cork, last year Maria became the first bowler ever to win successive All-Ireland U16 girls’ title since the grade’s inception in 2003 – the Mount St Michael fifth-year student defeated Ulster champion Leah Grimley in the 2015 All-Ireland decider. Maria’s feats in 2015 earned her a Celtic Ross West Cork Youth Sports Star quarterly award. Her family is also steeped in bowling – her father John competes at veteran grade and is a former Carbery champion while her brother James is a former All-Ireland novice 1 champion.
Current ITHRF Winter Season Female Jockey of the Year, the Goleen jockey (29) will be bidding for top honours in the All-Ireland road trotting final in Bandon this Sunday afternoon, aboard her favourite, Conway Tiger, who she bought in England as a four-year-old. (See page 16 for an All-Ireland road trotting preview).
Deirdre’s familiar green and white colours are often seen in the winners’ enclosure and she is enjoying another fine season this time out – Rhyds Ponder bringing her plenty of success this campaign, winning five races in a row (three in Grade C and two in Grade B).
Coming from a strong trotting and harness racing family – her father Michael is a very popular trainer – Deirdre has come a long way from her first win, on board Torpedo, when she was 14 years old. Also, her recent success at the meet in Dunmanway edged her closer to winning both the female jockey of the year again, and the overall jockey of the year award – which would be a first for this seasoned campaigner and a major breakthrough in a male-dominated sport.
Motorsport is very much male dominated, both in terms of competitors and organisation. On a grand scale Rosemary Smith and Michele Mouton are quite well known for their driving skills. Female rally co-drivers are also very low in the gender balance. However, in comparison to anywhere in the country there is no dearth of female rally co-drivers in West Cork. Hair stylist Michelle Gallwey from Leap certainly makes the cut and calls the pacenotes for her brother-in law, Brian O’Mahony from Rosscarbery.
Competing in last week’s Quality Hotel West Cork Rally they finished second in Class in a Honda Civic.
Michelle began rallying in 2007 – not surprisingly on the West Cork Rally in a 1300cc Peugeot 106. Aside from the West Cork and the Fastnet, Michelle also likes the Rally of the Lakes: ‘there is nothing like the scenery there’.
Some of her best achievements to date include winning Class 2 in the Southern 4 Rally Championship in 2011and Class 1 in last year’s PlasticBags.ie Southern 4 Rally Championship. Expect to hear a lot more about Michelle in West Cork motorsport this year.
LILY DE LA COUR
The reigning West Cork Sports Star of the Year – a deserved award after her world championship winning exploits last December – will find it difficult to top her 2015 heroics this year, but her challenge will be to remain number one.
The 21-year-old Bantry woman won her category (-50kg) at the senior WAKO World Kickboxing Championships held in Dublin last December, an achievement that saw this West Cork kickboxer crowned the best in the world.
The awards have come thick and fast for the current CMAP Female Competitor of the Year and current national Female Fighter of the Year. The UCC student has enjoyed a good start to 2016, winning the first leg of the national championships in February, as she defends her title. The next leg is in April.
Lily then won her category at the Irish Open international meet this month, and her targets for the year ahead include the European championships later in the year.
Her coach, Ian Kingston of West Cork Kickboxing Club, has one goal with Lily: to make her the complete fighter. Ominous words for her opponents.
Coming off the back of 60m and 200m gold medals at the recent national senior indoor championships, the Ballineen sprinter is in good form heading into the outdoor season as she sets her sights on qualifying for the European senior athletics championships in Amsterdam in July. She previously competed at the 2014 European seniors in Zurich – her first senior championships.
In February this year, the UCC student (21) set a new PB in the indoor 200m (23.74) and in the indoor 60m (7.35).
One of the top female sprinters in the country, Healy was part of the Irish women’s 4x200m relay team that set a national record and finished fifth at the world relay championships in the Bahamas in May 2015.
Busy training these weeks in the gym and out on the track, she flies out to Spain this Saturday for a two-week warm-weather training camp, with a race in the second week.
The outdoor season will start to kick in then. She has the University Championships in mid-April before it picks up in May with races in Waterford, Belgium, Geneva and then home for the national senior and national U23 championships. By the national seniors she hopes to have achieved the European qualifying standard for both the 100m and 200m – the latter is her main aim – as that’s the cut-off point. There’s also a chance the Irish relay team could compete at the Europeans, too.
The 19-year-old Macroom Boxing Club star has this year’s Olympic Games in her sights, providing she can negotiate the upcoming qualifying hurdles.
A former silver medallist at the 2013 World Youth Championships in Bulgaria, she just missed out on a bronze medal at the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China – but she is now targeting the Olympics in Rio.
Having turned senior in January 2015, which was a big step-up, Christina – one of Cork’s leading boxers – also moved up in weight classes, from her own 69kg to her current 75kg, where she is boxing above her weight and against bigger and stronger women. That took some time to adopt to, but she’s taking it in her stride.
Her first chance of securing Olympic qualification will come at the European Olympic Qualification Tournament in early April in Samsun, Turkey. The top two there will qualify for Rio.
There’s a second chance at the Women’s World Boxing Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan in mid-to-late May where the top four go through to the Olympics. Ideally, Christina, from Cill na Martra, wants to qualify from the Europeans, but a lot depends on the draw.