Awards time is with us again in all sports with a few already having been held and many many more to come in the remaining weeks of 2011.
This weekend it was the turn of the athletes and looking back one can say that it was the best year for Irish athletics in the recent past with the promise of even more to come.
Deirdre Ryan (Dundrum South Dublin) was named as the Athlete of the Year at the National Athletics Awards in association with Woodie’s DIY and Tipperary Crystal which took on Saturday ,at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Santry.
2011 was the year when Deirdre Ryan made the great leap forward to medal contender in one of the most technically and mentally demanding of field events – the High Jump. Her sixth place finish at the World Championships was the standout performance by an Irish athlete at major championships this season. The DSD athlete’s season best of 1.95m set a new Irish record and also secured the ‘A’ qualification standard for London 2012. Given an injury free build-up and another fractional improvement on her current best, Ryan who also won the Track and Field Athlete of the Year should be one of our leading hopefuls for a finalist spot at London 2012.
Ryan’s club, Dundrum South Dublin (DSD) were also the worthy recipients of the Club of the Year Award. DSD is one of the powerhouses of Irish athletics and the Dublin 14 club enjoyed an exceptional run of success in cross country, road running and track competition over the past year including winning all four team titles at the National Inter Counties Cross Country Championships and their women’s team winning the National League title for the first time since 1987.
2011 was a remarkable year in international competition for our up and coming athletes and this quality is reflected in the award winners in these categories. The Emerging Athlete of the Year was awarded to World Youth 5km Walk Gold medallist, Kate Veale (West Waterford AC). Ciara Mageean (City of Lisburn) was named as the Junior Athlete of the Year. After winning a silver medal at the European Junior Championships in Estonia, she proceeded to set a new Irish Junior 1500m record of 4:07.45 at the IMC Grand Prix final in Birmingham, placing her second fastest on the World Junior rankings over that distance this year.
The U23 Athlete of the Year was named as Brian Gregan of Clonliffe Harriers. Gregan ran the race of his life at the U23 European Championships in Ostrava, running a personal best of 46.12, to split two sub-45 second British athletes. A month later, the DCU student went below 46 seconds for the first time when running 45.96 to finish fifth in the World Student Games in China.
The Endurance Athlete Award went to Fionnuala Britton (Kilcoole AC) who was denied a European Cross Country Championships bronze medal in a near photo finish at Albufeira in Portugal last December finishing in the same time (26:59) as bronze medallist Ana Dulce Felix (Portugal). At the same championships the Men’s Irish U-23 Cross Country squad ran their hearts out, to win gold earning them the Team Award of the Year.
Teresa McDaid (Letterkenny AC) was the winner of the Coach of the Year. The Donegal coach has assembled an incredible squad of international class middle distance athletes including Mark English, Darren McBrearty and Ruairi Finnegan, whose talent she has nurtured.
Inspirational performance of the year went to Ciaran O’Lionaird for his sensational breakthrough performance at a meet in Oordegem Belgium when he improved his 1500m Personal Best from 3:48.36 to 3:34.46. This time moved him into fourth place on the all-time Irish rankings, qualified him for the World Championships and the London Olympics and confirmed his standing as a top class contender International middle distance athlete.
The Outstanding Official Award was presented to Aine Pobjoy from Mid Sutton who embodies the ethos of volunteerism, giving unselfishly of her time and energies for the benefit of others. Aine is a permanent fixture at local and national competitions and she has also helped develop the Annual Juvenile Star Awards. The Dublin woman has also been involved in the management of many successful Celtic Games competitions and European Youth Olympics teams.
Brother John Dooley was named as the Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. Brother John has made an immense contribution to Irish athletics over the past 50 years coaching successive generations of Irish runners. One of his early contributions includes reorganising schools’ athletics and helping to launch the Schools Cross Country Leagues. He also helped develop the North Mon PLC course which prepared many Irish athletes for US scholarships,
The Master of the Year award was presented to Joe Gough (West Waterford) an outstanding figure in Irish Masters’ athletics over the last decade. In 2011 his highlight performances came at the Master European Indoor Championships in Gent in March 2011 when he won the 800m (2.11.51) and 1500m (4.34.28).
The Mountain Runner of the Year was awarded to Karen Alexander (Sperrin Harriers) who won a silver medal in the World Mountain running long-distance challenge in Slovenia in June.
The AVIVA Tailteann Schools’ Awards were awarded to Kate Veale of St Augustine’s, Dungarvan and Tommy Casey of Sligo Grammar School.
Yes, by any standards a superb year for Irish athletics.