Des Cahill: Women have led the narrative for Irish sport in 2021

The progress has been enormous in the 18-year span since the awards began

I've been fortunate enough to have presented the Sportswoman of the Year awards since they began in 2004, and to this day they remain one of my favourite occasions. There's just a lovely atmosphere on the day, a humility about all the monthly winners, despite their achievements, and a wonderful camaraderie among them.

Many of them, I know, go on to become good friends after meeting at the awards for the first time, and even if they come from very different sporting worlds, they have so much in common too, offering each other support and encouragement along the way.

And these awards mean so much to those who have won them through the years, ahead of every ceremony I get messages from past winners wishing everyone a great day, their interest in the newest crop of high-achieving sportswomen huge.

Something that immediately jumps out at you is the remarkable longevity of so many of these sportswomen

Browsing through the names of the people who have been honoured in those 18 years was a lovely trip down memory lane, so many reminders in there of outstanding careers and exceptional achievements.


Something that immediately jumps out at you is the remarkable longevity of so many of these sportswomen.

Cora Staunton appeared on that very first roll of honour almost two decades ago, and she’s still playing for Carnacon and going strong with the Greater Western Sydney Giants.

Fionnuala McCormack, then Britton, was on the 2006 list, and she’ll be a contender again for the December 2021 award after taking almost three minutes off her lifetime marathon best in Valencia recently.

In 2007, a 12-year-old by the name of Leona Maguire (12!), along with her twin Lisa, won her first award. She picked up her 10th after a stunning 2021, her Solheim Cup performance one of the highlights of the sporting year.

Niamh Fahey was another early winner. At 16 she helped Galway win their first ever senior All Ireland football title; last month she won her 99th cap for Ireland in that 11-0 win over Georgia.

In 2005, Fahey was named the FAI's under-19 player of the year, succeeding a team-mate of hers on that roll of honour. You might have heard of her – Katie Taylor.

In light of the career she’s enjoyed, it’s remarkable now to think that it was only three years before these awards began that Taylor fought in the first officially sanctioned women’s bout in Ireland. What a long way her sport has come, Taylor herself playing an enormous part in taking it to where it is today.

Having been named sportswoman of the year on five occasions, Taylor has been, by some distance, the most successful in these awards, her presence at the ceremony usually leaving the other monthly winners awestruck – which is always funny because Taylor is probably the most humble person you could ever meet.

They all want to meet her, but they’d be like, “oh, I don’t want to bother her”. Katie is genuinely oblivious to this, she’s too busy being in awe of the likes of Rachael Blackmore, Leona Maguire and Sanita Puspure.

Her profile now calls to mind the results of a survey that came out in October, listing Ireland's "most marketable sports stars". Five of the top six – Kellie Harrington, Maguire, Ellen Keane, Blackmore and Taylor – were women, only Shane Lowry flying the flag for the lads.

That says so much about how Irish women have led the narrative in sport the past few years through what they have achieved, so many of them becoming household names.

When I look back at the names on that those early rolls of honour, probably only Sonia O’Sullivan had that kind of status. Look at the 2021 list and there are few, if any, bigger stars in Irish sport than Kellie, Leona, Ellen, Rachael and Katie – their first names alone usually enough to identify them.

Add to them the rowers who won bronze at the Olympics this year, Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal’s success at the Paralympics, the Meath footballers, who were probably the team story of the year, and the progress of the Irish football team, with a record TV audience for their game against Georgia, and you have a string of stories in women’s sport that are nothing but positive.

On so many many levels, there’s still a long way to go, but in terms of what our sportswomen are achieving, and the recognition they are receiving, the progress has been enormous in that 18-year span.

On that front, something else that struck me looking at the list – the number of women on it who are now television pundits, all playing a key role in the analysis of sport which had largely been a male domain.

Jane Mangan and Katie Walsh in horse racing, Ursula Jacob and Anna Geary in camogie, Fiona Coghlan and Niamh Briggs in rugby, Sonia O’Sullivan and Derval O’Rourke in athletics, Chloe Mustaki and Stephanie Roche in soccer, the list goes on.

That, I think, is a hugely important development in recent years, women’s voices and expertise now such a common feature of sports broadcasting, some change from back in the day when the trailblazer that was GAA analyst Liz Howard was a very lonely female voice in that area.

Speaking of trailblazers – that’s been another favourite part of mine in these awards – the Hall of Fame “Outstanding Contribution Award” recipients.

Mary Peters, Maeve Kyle, Rosemary Smith, Anne and Angela Downey, we've had the opportunity to honour some of the greatest sportswomen this island has ever produced, all of them sharing their remarkable stories with us on the day, all of them shown nothing but respect and love by the younger sportswomen who have been in awe of their journeys and so aware of how these pioneers had paved the way.

That connection, that awareness of the lineage, of how they’ve all been on a journey through the years, trying to build on the achievements of those who went before, trying to break new ground, trying to receive the respect and attention they deserve, that’s the journey these awards have attempted to acknowledge the past 18 years.

And it’s been an honour to have been a small part of sharing these remarkable women’s stories.

Overall winners

2004: Cathy Gannon (Horse racing)
2005: Briege Corkery (Camogie and Gaelic football)
2006: Derval O'Rourke (Athletics)
2007: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
2008: Katie Taylor (Boxing
2009: Olive Loughnane (Athletics)
2010: Grainne Murphy (Swimming)
2011: Nina Carberry (Horse racing)
2012: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
2013: Fiona Coghlan (Rugby)
2014: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
2015: Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery (Camogie and Gaelic football)
2016: Annalise Murphy (Sailing)
2017: Jessica Harrington (Horse racing)
2018: Kellie Harrington (Boxing)
2019: Sanita Puspure (Rowing)
2020: Katie Taylor (Boxing)

Outstanding Contribution Award
Mary Geaney – Gaelic Games
2018: Olympic Hockey team
2017: Mary Davis – Special Olympics
2016: Sonia O'Sullivan – Athletics
2015: Catherina McKiernan – Athletics
2014: Joanna Morgan – Horse racing
2013: Rosemary Smith – Rally driving
2012: Maeve Kyle – Contribution to sport
2011: Mary McKenna – Golf
2010: Jessica Harrington – Equestrian
2009: Anne and Angela Downey – Camogie
2008: Mary Peters – Athletics

Top monthly award winners since 2004

15 Katie Taylor (Boxing)
10 Leona Maguire (Golf), Madeleine Perry (Squash)
8 Jessica Kuerten (Equestrian)
7 Nina Carberry (Horse Racing)
5 Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal (Cycling); Fionnuala Britton (Athletics); Ciara Mageean (Athletics); Briege Corkery (Camogie/Gaelic football)
4 Sanita Puspure (Rowing); Rachael Blackmore (Horse racing); Kellie Harrington (Boxing); Katie Walsh (Horse racing); Jenny Egan (Canoeing); Fiona Coghlan (Rugby); Cora Staunton (Gaelic football/Australian Rules); Chloe Magee (Badminton), Annalise Murphy (Sailing).

Winners by sport

Athletics: Ann Marie McGlynn, Azmera Gebrezgi, Ciara Mageean, Deirdre Ryan, Derval O'Rourke, Eileen O'Keeffe, Fionnuala McCormack, Gina Akpe-Moses, Joanne Cuddihy, Jolene Byrne, Kate O'Connor, Kelly Proper, Laura Graham, Maria McCambridge, Mary Cullen, Nadia Power, Noelle Lenihan, Olive Loughnane, Phil Healy, Rhasidat Adeleke, Sarah Healy, Sonia O'Sullivan.

Australian Rules: Cora Staunton, Orla O'Dwyer.

Badminton: Chloe Magee.

Basketball: Áine McKenna, Carmel Kissane, Gráinne Dwyer, Jillian Aherne, Marie Breen, Michelle Fahy, Sarah Byrne.

Bobsleigh: Aoife Hoey, Claire Bergin.

Bowls: Margaret Johnston.

Boxing: Katie Taylor, Kellie Harrington.

Camogie: Anna Geary, Aoife Cassidy, Aoife Doyle, Briege Corkery, Denise Gaule, Mary Leacy, Mary O'Connor, Niamh Kilkenny, Rena Buckley, Therese Maher, Una Leacy, Una O'Dwyer, Ursula Jacob.

Canoeing: Jenny Egan.

Cricket: Amy Hunter.

Cycling: Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal.

Eventing: Aoife Clark.

Fencing: Siobhan Byrne.

Gaelic football: Amy O'Shea, Angela Walsh, Brid Stack, Briege Corkery, Cora Staunton, Denise Masterson, Fiona McHale, Juliet Murphy, Lyndsey Davey, Mary O'Connor, Niamh Fahey, Orlagh Farmer, Rena Buckley, Sinead Aherne, Sinead Goldrick, Valerie Mulcahy, Vikki Wall.

Golf: Claire Coughlan, Danielle McVeigh, Leona Maguire, Lisa Maguire, Maria Dunne, Olivia Mehaffey, Stephanie Meadow.

Gymnastics: Ellis O'Reilly.

Handball: Martina McMahon.

Hockey: Audrey O'Flynn, Ayeisha McFerran, Emma Smyth, Fiona Connery, Jenny Burke, Linda Caulfield, Nikki Symmons, Roisin Upton, Sarah Greene.

Horse racing: Cathy Gannon, Jane Mangan, Jessica Harrington, Katie Walsh, Nina Carberry, Rachael Blackmore.

Modern Pentathlon: Natalya Coyle.

Rowing: Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Emily Hegarty, Fiona Murtagh, Niamh Ní Cheilleachair, Sanita Puspure, Sinead Jennings.

Rugby: Fiona Coghlan, Niamh Briggs, Paula Fitzpatrick, Sophie Spence.

Sailing: Annalise Murphy.

Show-jumping: Jessica Kurten.

Soccer: Chloe Mustaki, Denise O'Sullivan, Diane Caldwell, Dora Gorman, Emma Byrne, Katie McCabe, Kylie Murphy, Leanne Kiernan, Savannah McCarthy, Stephanie Roche, Yvonne Tracy.

Squash: Aisling Blake Madeline Perry.

Surfing: Nicole Morgan.

Swimming: Bethany Firth, Ellen Keane, Grainne Murphy, Mona McSharry, Sycerika McMahon.

Tennis: Kelly Liggan.

Triathlon: Aileen Reid, Emma Davis.

Every monthly winner

January: Azmera Gebrezgi (Athletics)
February: Jillian Aherne (Basketball)
March: Linda Caulfield (Hockey)
April: Cora Staunton (Gaelic football)
May: Sonia O'Sullivan (Athletics)
June: Claire Coughlan (Golf)
July: Maria McCambridge (Athletics)
August: Jessica Kuerten (Equestrian sport)
September: Una O'Dwyer (Camogie)
October: Cathy Gannon (Horse racing)
November: Margaret Johnston (Bowls)
December: Madeline Perry (Squash)

Overall winner: Cathy Gannon

January: Carmel Kissane (Basketball)
February: Jolene Byrne (Athletics)
March: Nina Carberry (Horse Racing)
April: Madeline Perry (Squash)
May: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
June: Jenny Burke (Hockey)
July: Eileen O'Keeffe (Athletics)
August: Niamh Fahey (Gaelic football)
September: Briege Corkery (Camogie)
October: Jessica Kürten (Equestrian)
November: Nicole Morgan (Surfing)
December: Jessica Kürten (Equestrian)

Overall winner: Briege Corkery

January: Jessica Kurten (Show jumping)
February: Derval O'Rourke (Athletics)
March: Madeleine Perry (Squash)
April: Nina Carberry (Horse Racing)
May: Fiona Connery (Hockey)
June: Sinead Jennings and Niamh Ní Cheilleachair (Rowing)
July: Joanne Cuddihy (Athletics)
August: Kelly Liggan (Tennis)
September: Briege Corkery (Camogie/Football)
October: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
November: Claire Coughlan (Golf)
December: Fionnula Britton (Athletics)

Overall winner: Derval O'Rourke

January: Marie Breen (Basketball)
February: Chloe Magee (Badminton)
March: Nina Carberry (Horse Racing)
April: Emma Byrne (Soccer)
May: Lisa and Leona Maguire (Golf)
June: Jessica Kürten (Equestrian)
July: Eileen O'Keeffe (Athletics)
August: Joanne Cuddihy (Athletics)
September: Mary Leacy (Camogie) and Valerie Mulcahy (Gaelic football)
October: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
November: Cora Staunton (Gaelic football)
December: Madeline Perry (Squash)

Overall winner: Katie Taylor

January: Kelly Proper (Athletics)
February: Chloe Magee (Badminton)
March: Nina Carberry (Horse racing)
April: Siobhan Byrne (Fencing)
May: Leona and Lisa Maguire (Golf)
June: Emma Davis (Triathlon)
July: Sinead Jennings (Rowing)
August: Olive Loughnane (Athletics)
September: Briege Corkery (Camogie) and Angela Walsh (Gaelic Football)
October: Madeline Perry (Squash)
November: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
December: Mary Cullen (Athletics)

Overall winner: Katie Taylor

January: Jessica Kurten (Equestrian)
February: Mary Cullen (Athletics)
March: Nina Carberry (Horse racing) and Derval O'Rourke (Athletics)
April: Leona Maguire (Golf)
May: Lisa Maguire (Golf)
June: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
July: Ciara Mageean (Athletics) and Grainne Murphy (Swimming)
August: Olive Loughnane (Athletics)
September: Madeline Perry (squash) and Mary O'Connor (Camogie and Gaelic football)
October: Yvonne Tracy (Soccer)
November: Emma Smyth (Hockey)
December: Annalise Murphy (Sailing)

Overall winner: Olive Loughnane

January: Aoife Hoey and Claire Bergin (Bobsleigh)
February: Jessica Kurten (Equestrian)
March: Katie Walsh (Horse racing)
April: Dora Gorman (Soccer)
May: Valerie Mulcahy (Gaelic football)
June: Danielle McVeigh (Golf)
July: Derval O'Rourke (Athletics)
August: Grainne Murphy (Swimming) and Madeline Perry (Squash)
September: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
October: Ciara Mageean (Athletics)
November: Denise Masterson (Gaelic football) and Una Leacy (Camogie)

Overall winner: Grainne Murphy

December 2010: Fionnuala Britton (Athletics)
January: Leona Maguire (Golf)
February: Fiona Coghlan (Rugby)
March: Lisa Maguire (Golf)
April: Nina Carberry (Horse racing)
May: Jenny Egan (Canoeing)
June: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
July: Sycerika McMahon (Swimming) and Madeline Perry (Squash)
August: Deirdre Ryan (Athletics)
September: Ursula Jacob (Camogie) and Amy O'Shea (Gaelic football)
October: Aileen Morrison (Triathlon)
November: Chloe Magee (Badminton)

Overall winner: Nina Carberry

December 2011: Fionnuala Britton (Athletics)
January: Jessica Kurten (Equestrian)
February: Fiona Coghlan (Rugby)
March: Audrey O'Flynn (Hockey)
April: Katie Walsh (Horse racing)
May: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
June: Stephanie Meadow (Golf)
July: Annalise Murphy (Sailing)
August: Bethany Firth (Swimming)
September: Ursula Jacob (Camogie)
October: Rena Buckley (Gaelic football)
November: Sycerika McMahon (Swimming)

Overall winner: Katie Taylor

December 2012: Fionnuala Britton (Athletics)
January: Michelle Fahy (Basketball)
February: Fiona Coghlan (Rugby)
March: Aisling Blake (Squash)
April: Jane Mangan (Horse Racing)
May: Annalise Murphy (Sailing)
June: Nikki Symmons (Hockey)
July: Kelly Proper (Athletics)
August: Bethany Firth (Swimming)
September: Therese Maher (Camogie) and Juliet Murphy (Gaelic football)
October: Aileen Reid (Triathlon) and Aoife Clark (Eventing)
November: Cora Staunton (Gaelic Football)

Overall winner: Fiona Coghlan

December: Madeline Perry (Squash)
January: Gráinne Dwyer (Basketball)
February: Niamh Briggs (Rugby)
March: Sarah Greene (Hockey)
April: Savannah McCarthy (Soccer)
May: Sanita Puspure (Rowing)
June: Katie Taylor (Boxing) and Stephanie Meadow (Golf)
July: Chloe Mustaki (Soccer)
August: Fiona Coghlan (Rugby)
September: Anna Geary (Camogie) and Briege Corkery (Gaelic football)
October: Maria McCambridge (Athletics).
November: Stephanie Roche (Soccer) and Aileen Reid (Triathlon)

Overall winner: Katie Taylor

December: Ann Marie McGlynn (Athletics)
January: Gráinne Dwyer (Basketball)
February: Sophie Spence (Rugby)
March: Niamh Briggs (Rugby)
April: Katie Walsh (Horse racing)
May: Leona Maguire (Golf) and Madeline Perry (Squash)
June: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
July: Sarah Byrne (Basketball)
August: Jenny Egan (Canoeing)
September: Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery (Camogie and Gaelic football)
October: Noelle Lenihan (Discus)
November: Kylie Murphy (Soccer)

Overall winner: Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery (Camogie and Gaelic football)

December: Fionnuala McCormack (Athletics)
January: Áine McKenna (Basketball)
February: Ciara Mageean (Athletics)
March: Nina Carberry (Horse Racing)
April: Ellis O'Reilly (Gymnastics)
May: Kellie Harrington (Boxing)
June: Leona Maguire, Olivia Mehaffey and Maria Dunne (Golf)
July: Jenny Egan (Canoeing)
August: Annalise Murphy (Sailing)
September: Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal (Cycling)
October: Laura Graham (Athletics)
November: Denise Gaule (Camogie) and Brid Stack (Gaelic football)

Overall winner: Annalise Murphy

December: Leanne Kiernan (Soccer)
January: Grainne Dwyer (Basketball)
February: Paula Fitzpatrick (Rugby)
March: Aoife Cassidy (Camogie)
April: Jessica Harrington (Horse Racing) and Chloe Magee (Badminton)
May: Leona Maguire (Golf)
June: Mona McSharry (Swimming)
July: Gina Akpe-Moses (Athletics)
August: Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal (Cycling)
September: Rena Buckley (Camogie) and Sinead Aherne (Gaelic Football)
October: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
November: Katie McCabe (Soccer)

Overall winner: Jessica Harrington

December: Fiona McHale (Gaelic football)
January: Phil Healy (Athletics)
February: Cora Staunton (Australian Rules)
March: Katie Walsh (Horse racing)
April: Leona Maguire (Golf)
May: Natalya Coyle (Modern Pentathlon)
June: Sarah Healy (Athletics)
July: Ayeisha McFerran (Hockey)
August: Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal (Cycling)
September: Sanita Puspure (Rowing) and Sinead Aherne (Gaelic football)
October: Rachael Blackmore (Horse racing) and Katie Taylor (Boxing)
November: Kellie Harrington (Boxing)

Overall winner: Kellie Harrington

December: Mona McSharry (Swimming)
January: Phil Healy (Athletics)
February: Ciara Mageean (Athletics)
March: Rachael Blackmore (Horse racing)
April: Leona Maguire (Golf)
May: Jenny Egan (Canoeing)
June: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
July: Kate O'Connor (Athletics) and Rhasidat Adeleke (Athletics)
August: Sanita Puspure (Rowing)
September: Niamh Kilkenny (Camogie) and Lyndsey Davey (Gaelic football)
October: Denise O'Sullivan (Soccer)
November: Roisin Upton (Hockey)

Overall winner: Sanita Puspure

December 2019: Fionnuala McCormack (Athletics)
January: Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal (Cycling)
February: Rachael Blackmore (Horse racing)
March: Diane Caldwell (Soccer)
April: Kellie Harrington (Boxing)
May: Orlagh Farmer (Gaelic Football)
June: Gina Akpe-Moses (Athletics)
July: Ciara Mageean (Athletics)
August: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
September: Martina McMahon (Handball)
October: Sanita Puspure (Rowing)
November: Stephanie Meadow (Golf)

Overall winner: Katie Taylor

December: Aoife Doyle (Camogie) and Sinead Goldrick (Gaelic football)
January: Nadia Power (Athletics)
February: Rachael Blackmore (Horse racing)
March: Leona Maguire (Golf)
April: Orla O'Dwyer (Australian Rules)
May: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
June: Kellie Harrington (Boxing)
July: Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty (Rowing)
August: Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal (Cycling) and Ellen Keane (Swimming)
September: Vikki Wall (Gaelic football)
October: Amy Hunter (cricket)
November: Katie McCabe (Soccer)