It was another golden year of sport for Northern Ireland and now it is time to honour those who soared in 2017 with the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.
The shortlists are in for all the awards, which will be presented in just three weeks’ time.
This year, some of the awards have been separated into a platinum category for professional teams and a gold category for amateur teams in order to reward sports people at different levels of the game.
As a result, there are no less than 16 awards to be given out on the night, celebrating the many successes Northern Ireland sport had over the last year, and competition is fierce within every category for deciding a winner.
Sports Star of the Year
Nominees: Rory Best (Rugby), Michael McKillop (Athletics), Steven Davis (Football), Ryan Burnett (Boxing), Jason Smyth (Athletics), Jonathan Rea (Motorcycling).
Jonathan Rea, after winning an unprecedented third successive World Superbike title and finishing runner-up in the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award, is one of the front runners on that list, as is boxer Ryan Burnett, who won all three of his fights in 2017 and unified the IBF and WBA world bantamweight titles with his victory over Zhanat Zhakiyanov in October.
Also up for Sports Star of the Year are Ulster Rugby captain Rory Best, a member of the British and Irish Lions touring squad over the summer, Northern Ireland football captain Steven Davis, who was a key figure in nearly leading Michael O’Neill’s men to the World Cup in Russia, and Paralympic runners Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth, who both won gold medals at the World Championships in London.
Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year
Platinum Nominees (professional sportsperson): Jonny Evans (Football), Mark Downey (Cycling), Gareth Steenson (Rugby), Jacob Stockdale (Rugby).
Gold Nominees (amateur sportsperson): Chrissy McKaigue (GAA), Eugene Magee (Hockey), James Shannon (Cricket), Lisa Bowman (Netball).
Two rugby players are up for the professional platinum award — Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale, who has risen from their Academy to be a starter at international level for Ireland, and Ulster-born fly-half Gareth Steenson, who captained Exeter Chiefs to their first Aviva Premiership title in May.
Ever-reliable Northern Ireland centre-back Jonny Evans is up for the accolade too after playing a key role in Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign, while cyclist Mark Downey would also be a worthy winner having soared to the top of the world rankings last year.
The non-professional gold award will be contested by Ulster Hurling Championship-winning captain Chrissy McKaigue of Tyrone, who also played a big role in their football success, while Banbridge and Ireland hockey player Eugene Magee, who reached 250 international caps and scored twice in Bann’s Irish Senior Cup final success, is also in the running.
Also included are Northern Knights cricketer James Shannon, who scored the most points in both the Inter-provincial Trophy and Cup, and inspirational netball player Lisa Bowman, who was key in firing Northern Ireland to this year’s Commonwealth Games.
Team of the Year
Platinum Nominees (full-time professional team): Linfield Football Team, Ireland Cricket Team, Tyco BMW Motorcycle Team, NI Football Team.
Gold Nominees (amateur team): Tyrone GAA, Waringstown Cricket 1st XI, Banbridge Hockey 1st XI Team, NI Netball Team, City of Armagh RFC 1st XV Team.
The platinum Team of the Year award is also an interesting one as the Northern Ireland football team aim to defend their award from last year. However, they will have stiff opposition from Linfield’s treble-winning side, the Irish cricket team after being awarded Full Member status, and the Tyco BMW motorcycle team whose wins at the North West 200 took them to 25 triumphs on the north coast.
On the gold side, Tyrone GAA will be strong favourites having successfully defended their Ulster Senior Football Championship crown, as well as winning the Senior Hurling title too. However, they will be well pushed by City of Armagh Rugby Club after they won the SONI Ulster Premiership and their first ever Ulster Senior Cup.
Having qualified for the Commonwealth Games, the Northern Ireland netball team will also stake a claim for the award, as will Banbridge Hockey Club, who had an excellent year in winning the EY League and Irish Senior Cup.
Waringstown Cricket Club are the final nominees and were the most successful of all the sides up for the award in terms of the number of trophies they won, bringing home the Irish Cup, NCU Premier League, NCU T20 Cup and Ulster Cup all in a record-breaking year.
Young Player of the Year
Nominees: Jack Agnew (Wheelchair athlete), Mona McSharry (Swimming), Xeno Young (Cycling), Conor Ferguson (Swimming).
Young Player of the Year will be contested by four up-and-coming stars of Northern Ireland sport, including wheelchair racer Jack Agnew, who won four medals at the World Para Athletics Junior Championships, and European Track Cycling Championship silver medallist Xeno Young.
Swimmers Mona McSharry and Conor Ferguson, who both won medals at the World Junior Championships — with Ferguson becoming the first male from Northern Ireland to do so — are also included on the shortlist.
Young Team of the Year
Nominees: Banbridge Academy Girls 1st XI Hockey Team, Tyrone U17 GAA Team, Enniskillen Royal Boat Club, NI Commonwealth Games Youth Team.
An award will also go to the Young Team of the Year, with another Tyrone GAA team included as their Under-17s had a great campaign, defeating Cavan in the final of the inaugural Ulster Under-17 Football Championship to take home the trophy.
They’ll be opposed by Banbridge Academy’s Girls’ 1st XV hockey team, who won the All-Ireland title in March, the Enniskillen Royal Boat Club, whose junior teams took home no less than 11 medals from the Irish Rowing Championships, and the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Youth Games team, who came home from the Bahamas with an excellent 12-medal haul.
Manager / Coach of the Year
Platinum Nominees (full-time professional coach/manager): Mickey Harte (Tyrone GAA), Mike Todd (Down Royal), David Healy (Linfield FC), Michael O’Neill (Northern Ireland Football Team).
Gold Nominees (amateur coach/manager): Ryan Eagleson (Cricket U19 head coach), Mickey Moran (Slaughtneil GAA), Mark Tumilty (Banbridge men’s hockey), Elaine Rice (NI Netball).
The platinum Manager of the Year is another award that could be defended as Northern Ireland football manager Michael O’Neill could win it for the second year in a row after yet another stellar qualifying campaign that saw his side narrowly miss out on reaching the 2018 World Cup.
This year, the national manager will look to hold off the challenge of Tyrone GAA boss Mickey Harte, who led the Red Hands to back-to-back Ulster football titles, Linfield’s much loved treble-winning chief David Healy, and Down Royal Racecourse General Manager Mike Todd, whose stewardship saw the track named Racecourse of the Year.
As another award that’s split into two sections, the gold category sees Slaughtneil coach Mickey Moran up for consideration after he led the club’s footballers to their second Ulster Club Championship in a row, which was also the final piece of the club’s unprecedented ‘double-treble’ success.
The three other nominees are Mark Tumilty, who coached Banbridge to their league and cup double, Elaine Rice, who is in charge of the Northern Ireland netball side that has reached the Commonwealth Games, and Ryan Eagleson, the head of the Ireland Under-19 cricket side that qualified for the 2018 Under-19 World Cup with a dramatic win over Scotland in July.
Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability
Nominees: Eve Walsh Dann (Sprinter), Jack Agnew (wheelchair athlete), Mark Gibson (wheelchair golfer), Jonny Young (Para-canoeist).
Jack Agnew is the only person to be up for two awards, having already been nominated for the Young Player of the Year, and he is also one of the nominees for the Sports Person with a Disability Award after his excellent haul from the World Para Athletics Junior Championships.
A star-studded field is competing for the award, and opposing Agnew are T36 sprinter Eve Walsh-Dann, who brought home two gold medals from the World Junior Championships, current British and European wheelchair golf champion Mark Gibson from Spa GC, and VL3 World champion para-canoeist Jonathan Young.
Game Changer Award
Nominees: Joanne Heasley (Portadown Ladies Netball Team), Joanne Rock (Lagan Dragons Dragon Boat Club), Mary Robinson (Gymnastics), Shirley McCay (Hockey).
The final shortlisted award is brand new for this year’s event, and is open to women only. The Game Changer Award aims to recognise an individual woman who has made an impact on the Northern Ireland sporting landscape in the past year, making it better and stronger for females.
It’s a strong shortlist for the first edition of this award, and it includes Ireland’s most-capped sportsperson, hockey player Shirley McCay, who was part of the Ireland women’s team who have qualified for this year’s World Cup.
Also up for the gong are gymnastics coach Mary Robinson, who played an instrumental role at Coleraine’s SIKA Gymnastics Club over the last year, Joanne Heasley, who plays a huge role with the Portadown Ladies netball team, and Joanne Rock, founder of the only boat club for breast cancer survivors, the Lagan Dragons.
There are also five awards to be handed out on the night that have been awarded by the committee without a shortlist, including the newest inductee to the Belfast Telegraph Sporting Hall of Fame.
The Paddy Patterson Services to Sport Award will highlight the dedication that the winner has shown to their sport over the past calendar year, while the George Best Breakthrough Award will recognise a sportsperson who has emerged as a leading light in Northern Ireland sport.
The Local Heroes Award will reward someone who has made a major contribution to sport in their local area at an unheralded level, while the final award, the Special Recognition Award, will give further recognition to those who do great unseen work behind the scenes in Northern Ireland.
Belfast Telegraph Sports Editor Jim Gracey said: “This year has been an amazing year for Northern Ireland sport. All around the world, our sporting heroes have excelled.
“It is fantastic to honour these stars at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, which is always a wonderful occasion.
“Northern Ireland sports stars continue to give the country something to feel extremely proud about and year on year the judges face a huge challenge deciding who should be shortlisted and who should win each award.
“I’m looking forward to a great event.”