Virtually unprecedented, some performances defying reality, and in the end providing an undisputed winner, maybe the first and lasting live impression of the 17th staging of The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year awards was that they happened at all.
In any other year, each of the monthly winners would have been here, or else represented, to acclaim the plaudits for themselves and their peers at Dublin’s Shelbourne hotel, only not in 2020. So the awards were brought to them, all 12 monthly winners – as ever impressively spread across nine different sports – linked into a virtual presentation at lunchtime on Friday, culminating with outright winner Katie Taylor, for an utterly unique fifth time.
That was only part of the challenge: three months into the year, it appeared as if 2020 might already be out of winners, given the then uncertainty around Covid-19. Which is why three monthly winners were recognised for their achievement outside their chose sport – boxer Kellie Harrington, athlete Gina Akpe-Moses, and Gaelic footballer Orlagh Farmer, the hope being that will remain unprecedented.
For Taylor, who first won a monthly award back in 2005 when she was just 19, and has since collected 12 more, a fifth outright award was perfectly fitting given 2020 marked another year as undisputed world lightweight champion, twice defending her WBC, IBF, WBO and WBA titles against Belgian rival Delfine Persoon and then Miriam Gutierrez from Spain.
She does plan to make it home to Bray in time for Christmas, but Taylor being Taylor, there is no such thing as a holiday season, telling awards host Des Cahill that life at her training base in Vernon, Connecticut is still all about the training.
“I’m the type of fighter that’s always in the gym, regardless of if I have a fight day or not,” said Taylor, who was also outright winner in 2007, 2008, 2012, and 2014. “I came back after the last fight, took three days off, then I went straight back into training again. I think the great athletes are always in the gym, constantly working on their crafts.
“But these have definitely been the most enjoyable few years of my whole career and this is coming after my lowest point as well, the Rio Olympics, so it really has been an amazing few years.”
The plan is for 2021 to bring more still, Taylor unafraid of whatever challenge comes next: “I think you have to risk failure to be actually great at any sport, in any part of life really. I think the biggest failure in life is actually not risking failure. You have to go and take that risk. To be great at any sport you have to do that, you have to step out and that’s how anyone becomes great really. And yeah I want to be the greatest of all time. I want to be the best. In order to do that you have to take on the best fighters in the world.”
There was sweet symmetry to Taylor’s fifth award, in that it coincided with Olive O’Toole’s name being added to the Outstanding Contribution roll of honour. O’Toole, now 49, once played alongside a very young Taylor, before she herself become the most capped Irish women’s international soccer player of all time, scoring a record 54 goals in 130 appearances
As a youngster she played with Sheriff Street Boys, Raheny United and Drumcondra Ladies, before going on to win eight FAI cups and nine league titles with several clubs, including Blacklion, Castle Rovers, Shamrock Rovers and Raheny.
“When I played Sheriff Street [Boys], I also had my own dressingroom,” said O’Toole, admitting it was her first time in the Shelbourne. “The boys had their own dressingroom, so that was okay, but other teams didn’t like the fact that I was a girl playing with boys.
“That absolutely bothered me, but I thrived on it, I thrived that they didn’t want me to play, so I think that’s probably why I ended up being the player that I was, growing up, because I was always trying to prove people wrong, that girls could play with boys, that everyone is equal, if you know what I mean. That’s probably why I became the top goal scorer, because I wanted to prove to people.”
Sports Editor of The Irish Times, Malachy Logan, also highlighted the range of challenges that each of the monthly winners overcame: “They all had to cope with constraints on training, the use of facilities and limits on travel. Nevertheless, they showed the dedication and resilience that marks them out as outstanding competitors and brilliant role models for the tens of thousands of girls who would like to follow in their footsteps.”
The Minister of State for Sport, Jack Chambers, said: “It’s important that our young and aspiring athletes have role models to look up to and today we are honouring 12 such role models who have all excelled in their chosen code. While our top athletes have been keeping us all entertained during these difficult months, there have been great strides made in the number of women and girls participating in sport and physical activity.”
Sport Ireland was represented by Dr Una May, director of participation and ethics, who also applauded each of the monthly winners, saying “this year, more than ever, these women have proven their resilience, some coming out breaking records, and contributed not just on the playing field too.”
Más información: THE IRISH TIMES.