Another sporting year has been and gone, some of the events are worthy of books in their own right, for now let’s look back and savour the memories as The Clare Echo’s Head of News & Sport Páraic McMahon dishes out the 2021 Clare Echo Sporting Awards.
Sports Persons of the Year: Liam Jegou / Naomi Carroll (Clare’s Olympians)
Quite literally the stuff of dreams, Liam Jegou and Naomi Carroll flew the flag for both the county and country while forming part of Team Ireland for the Tokyo Olympics which took place in July. Ballyvaughan’s Jegou finished in fifteenth position of the men’s semi-final in the men’s slalom, in the lead-up to the Games the canoeist was vocal in stating his pride at getting to represent his country. Naomi from Cratloe had one heck of a journey to get to Tokyo bouncing back from an ACL injury and setbacks to regain her spot in the Irish hockey squad, her inclusion was telling in the European Championships and she had the honour of being part of the first Irish female hockey squad to partake in the Olympics. Ballina’s Finn McKeever, a past pupil of St Anne’s Killaloe was part of the first ever Irish men’s 4x200m team in an Olympic pool, alongside Jack McMillan, Brendan Hyland and Shane Ryan they set a new Irish record time of 7:14.58 but which was only enough to finish eight of eight. As fantastic ambassadors for their county and country, the trio are exemplary athletes but their endeavours will undoubtedly inspire the next generation.
Rising Star of the Year: Dean Casey
Eighteen year old Dean from Ennis continues to climb the ranks in the world of Irish athletics. In July, he recorded a sixth place finish in the final of the men’s 5000m final at the U20 European Championships. In recent weeks, Dean was part of the Irish U20 6000m running team which won silver at the European Cross Country Championships, he was the second best placed of the team and was thirteenth home overall. He is only the second Irish runner to have recorded a time of less than fourteen minutes in the 5000m.
Fine Wine of the Year: David Tubridy
Doonbeg’s Tubridy sealed his place in the GAA history books. When he kicked a personal tally of 1-08 against Cork in June, the publican became the all-time top scorer in the history of the National Football League bypassing Sligo’s Mickey Kearns. In fourteen seasons, he has scored 22-415 (481 points) in the National Football League. Coupled with the distinction of the feat, David was later honoured with lifetime membership of Doonbeg Golf Club while elected representatives in the West Clare Municipal District are to hold a mayoral reception to recognise this. Showing no signs of slowing down, Tubs was one of the star men for Colm Collins’ side all throughout 2021.
Team of the Year: Scariff/Ogonnelloe
Hell hath no fury like a crowd of East Clare women scorned! 2019 Clare and Munster senior camogie champions, Scariff/Ogonnelloe were back with a vengeance this year after they lost both titles following last year’s semi-final defeat to Newmarket-on-Fergus. A new management headed up by David Sullivan brought in radical changes to their starting fifteen and it reaped dividends. They blitzed through their group with little fuss beating Kilmaley, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Kilkishen/Bodyke and St Josephs Doora/Barefield before dethroning Inagh/Kilnamona in the semi-final and then ensuring the McMahon Cup went back East overcoming Truagh/Clonlara following a replay in the decider. They came back stronger this year, determination and resilience shining through particularly when the pressure mounted on the big days. A Munster campaign awaits and they will take stopping.
Battler of the Year: Liam Alford
Shannon’s Liam Alford became an undisputed and undefeated professional world kickboxing champion when he recorded success in Birmingham in August. Liam had a knockout victory over Qasim Beg, one minute and forty seconds into the fourth round of their bout. Prior to the fight, Qasim was undefeated in forty nine outings, the win also saw Liam claim the YKF, WKO, ICO and WRSA belts making him the undisputed champion in the 63.5kg weight division.
Unsung Hero of the Year: Clare’s referees
Instances of abuse towards schoolboys and schoolgirls referees became a talking point across the country this year but no such issues were reported in the CSSL. Whatever the code, the importance of referees cannot be underestimated. They are human, they make mistakes, some of them more than others and some of them will take different approaches in dealing with clubs or individuals. Shortage of the men and women in the middle has been flagged by county officers in both GAA and soccer, they don’t steal the show but without them the show would not go on. It’s something to take into consideration for 2022 and encouraging suitable persons to take up the whistle.
LOL Moment of the Year: Eimear Kelly’s solo parade
County finals are experiences to be cherished with every moment to be absorbed. Joint captain of the Truagh/Clonlara side that appeared in the Clare senior camogie final for the first time, Eimear adopted a similar motto for the drawn encounter in Clarecastle. Leading her teammates in the parade behind the solo uileann piper, Eimear was so engrossed in the crowd and savouring the day that she failed to realise that her teammates had left the parade and spent some time following the piper on her own. Not your typical occurrence on county final day but a memory to savour, nonetheless.
Manager of the Year: Davy Wall
Shannon’s Wall oversaw Clare’s success in the Kennedy Bowl, their first time winning the competition in twenty one years. Their comprehensive 3-0 win over Galway in early December also marked the third time in the forty year history of the Kennedy Cup competition that a Clare side collected silverware. Ex Newtown and Newmarket Celtic striker, Davy oversaw the development of a very promising outfit who only suffered one defeat in their entire campaign, they scored twenty goals and only conceded two throughout. Dominant and bright sparks for the future, inspired by their manager.
Coach of the Year: Rob Mulcahy
Rightly regarded as one of the top strength and conditioning coaches to work in the county, Rob is an athletic performance coach and sport scientist currently employed by Clare GAA. He is currently laying the foundations with the county’s development squads, the rewards of which will hopefully be seen in the near future. He brings with him a professional approach and one in which improvement soon follows. Rob is responsible for keeping Colm Collins’ Clare side in tip top shape and he was also part of Donie Garrihy’s St Breckans management, fitness was definitely not an issue for either side not claiming silverware in the year that was. Excellent coaches have been lost to Clare GAA in the past, whatever happens in the future, if Clare GAA is to have bright days Mulcahy will be associated with them.
Multi-tasker of the Year: Ann Marie McGann
Manager, mentor, broadcaster, officer, teacher and umpire were among the roles held by the Doora/Barefield club woman during a hectic year. She was joint manager of the Clare Junior camogie side, a selector to The Parish, an analyst on Channel Clare, a presenter on Scariff Bay, an umpire to her brother Rory and guiding the next generation of St Flannan’s College, all the while demonstrating an ability to fire out a very quick remark. On top of it all, she became the hype woman as Brid MacNamara did ‘a little bit of walking’ once again raising a huge amount of money for Clare camogie. There’s only 24 hours in the day for McGann, the days may change but the discussion towards matters GAA rarely deviates for the former goalkeeper. Now that the senior and junior county management are doubling up for 2022, it doesn’t appear that she’ll be getting increased downtime in the near future.
Sporting Romance of the Year: Treaty Utd
Captained by Shannon’s Jack Lynch, managed by Sixmilebridge’s Tommy Barrett with Callum McNamara of Newmarket-on-Fergus and Joe Collins from Ennis playing key roles, it doesn’t come as a major surprise that the people of Clare developed an affinity with the Limerick club. That there is no Banner outfit in the League of Ireland left a gap that Treaty certainly filled by winning over many football fans in the county as they made their first foray into the First Division. The recent signing of Newmarket-on-Fergus’ Lee Devitt adds to the Clare contingent at the club and will win over a few more Banner supporters.
Administrators of the Year: Saffron and Blue Committee
A strategic plan group of nine individuals were tasked with devising a strategic review for Clare GAA. Their formation came together following a proposal by Éire Óg’s Niall O’Connor and a stormy period for the GAA in Clare. The SPG was comprised of Enda Connolly, Eoin Conroy, Eoin Doohan, Conor Gilligan, Roisin Glynn, Colin Kelly, Kieran Keating, Mark O’Connell and Enda O’Flaherty, all bringing different expertise to the table. Excitement and fear was expressed by club delegates at Hotel Woodstock at the beginning of November when the plan was first presented in detail. There are four strategic focuses in the plan – governance, clubs, games and commercial growth. Each of these includes a series of recommendations such as the appointments of a full-time Chief Operating Officer which will evolve into a CEO role, a full time Commercial and Brand Manager, a full-time Finance Manage, a facilities manager who will oversee the assets owned by Clare GAA. They completed an extensive body of work, none of which can be matched by any other sporting group in the county. The five-year action plan for Clare signifies an important juncture that presents a vision of the future, the ‘notorious nine’ completed the body of work, time will tell if it is acted on.
Just Rewards Award: Imogen Cotter
Perseverance paid off for the Ruan cyclist at the beginning of October when she became the new Irish women’s elite road race champion. Imogen’s fortitude shone through as only the best riders were left peddling in the final 20km of a 92.9km race in the Senior Women’s Road Race National Championships in Coolbeg, Rathnew, Co Wicklow. Based in Belgium with the Keukens Redant Cycling Team, Cotter outsprinted Megan Armitage (Team Rupelcleaning – Champion Lubricants) and Linda Kelly (Barrow Wheelers) to take the national title by a clear margin. As a distance-runner in her teens, she medalled at All-Ireland cross-country, 3,000m and 5,000m.
Sporting Hipster of the Year: Seamus Collins
Anchor of the Lissycasey defence, Seamus Collins is the poster boy of sporting hipsters in the county. Committed to the long locks, Seamo is also a fan favourite among the Lissycasey faithful in light of his consistency on the field. Whether it’s high possession or the hair style, Collins is one of the most regularly photographed gaelic footballers in the club scene, equally the centre back would likely feature in the top fifteen if a team of the year was to be selected based on the past two seasons.
Sporting Personality of the Year: Donie Garrihy
An annual contender for the manager gong, Donie strengthens view that the people of Clare are salt of the earth. Not alone that, but there is plenty of spice in any interview with the Doolin rather than the blandish approach favoured by plenty of his counterparts. “We’re not playing subbuteo”, quoting Delia Smith and name-checking Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini were among some of the memorable moments with the St Breckans boss this season, his side reached the Clare SFC semi-finals for the second year in a row. The two-time Oscar Traynor winning manager brings with him a ferocious work-ethic and honesty. It’s never dull with Donie and he of all is the man capable of leading St Breckans to very bright days.
Breakthrough of the Year: Clare trio make Munster debuts
Arguably one of the sporting highlights of 2021 for the people of Clare was to see the trio of Conor Moloney, Tony Butler and Ethan Coughlan make their debuts for the Munster rugby team. It occurred on a December day at the Coventry Building Society Arena, when against all odds Munster defeated Wasps 35-14 in the Heineken Champions Cup. 34 players were absent for the tie with the province’s trip to South Africa ruling out a large contingent after they contracted COVD-19. They included 12 new faces in the squad of 23, the trio who passed through the ranks of Ennis RFC among them. Rugby followers will hope Conor, Tony and Ethan will have many more memorable days in red, they won’t shy from the challenge because to the brave and faithful, nothing is impossible.
Innovator of the Year: Jim Conlan
Capitalising on the era of remote interviews, Ballynacally’s Jim Conlan has seen his reputation grow in the midst of the pandemic by putting a new spin on the term ‘roving reporter’. He has become a regular at press conferences with Premier League managers and NBA players with the Estuary accent bringing a smile to some of sport’s biggest names such as Pep Guardiola, Anthony Edwards and Rick Carlisle. He has managed to make the headlines himself, going viral on a handful of occasions but the Clondegad footballer has certainly put Raidió Corca Baiscinn on the map in terms of global coverage. All of this, he has managed to achieve without leaving Ballynacally.
Controversy of the Year: Clare GAA
Sanitiser is applied to the goalposts of Cusack Park before, during and after every game in the country grounds but when it comes to drama, there’s no amount of spraying that could keep up with an eventful year. Opposites attract but in 2021 controversy and Clare GAA were almost joined at the hip. There was of course, the shocking sin-bin issued to Aidan McCarthy by Wexford whistler James Owens in the Munster semi-final against Tipperary, the bizarre nature whereby two Clare hurlers were named as close contacts when positive COVID-19 cases emerged in the Wexford camp, almost weekly appearances in the Sunday papers, Brian Lohan having a complaint against Vincent Hogan and The Irish Independent upheld by the Press Ombudsman and Press Council of Ireland, plans for sub-committees being shot down, criticisms of Caherlohan and the mess that became a meaningless relegation series. Also, instead of a thank you to one man for raising €4000 to feed a county panel, a verbal attack was launched and rescinded. Claims, speculation and rumours were also commonplace. Spanish Point’s Pierce Purcell side take second place in this category.
Weirdest Sporting Accessory of the Year: Eoin Guilfoyle
Camogie star Chloe Morey may have the star spangled bandanna but razor sharp followers of the Clare club hurling scene would have noticed a peculiar accessory attached to one Newmarket-on-Fergus hurler. Wing forward, Eoin Guilfoyle was among the top performers for the Blues as they reached the last four for the first time since 2017 but he sported what was dubbed locally as ‘the finger condom’. Applied with great care and attention, the extra piece of protection came into force towards the end of the summer, ironically his older brother Colin was a doubt for their first round tie against Éire Óg due to a finger injury. Eagle-eyed readers may also recognise Eoin from gracing the back pages in ‘Spot the Difference’ while supporting the Clare hurlers alongside his twin Padraic.