When the judges began their chatting about the destination of our Sportswoman of the Month for July award, there was a sizeable sense of déjà vu about it all. Only a year ago a clutch of our young sportswomen were inconsiderate enough to excel in the same summer months too, notably our athletes at the World Under-20 and European Under-18 Championships.
In the end we couldn’t find a place on the 2018 roll of honour, when one was more than deserved, for the likes of Rhasidat Adeleke, Sophie O’Sullivan, Molly Scott, Gina Akpe-Moses, Ciara Neville or Patience Jumbo-Gula, despite them all collecting medals at various distances. Sarah Healy, though, pipped them to the gong by winning both the 1500m and 3000m titles at the Europeans.
So, come the end of last month, it was a familiar feeling. Healy was in fine form again, winning silver in the 1500m at the Europeans and her first senior national title at the same distance a week later, while Neville ran the second fastest 100m of all time by an Irish woman at the nationals. And outside athletics we had Kate Derwin winning gold in the under-18 competition at the European Youth Show Jumping Championships, Molly Mayne collecting two breaststroke bronze medals at the European Youth Olympic Festival and Eve McMahon taking bronze at the Laser Radial Youth World Championships in Canada. And the list goes on.
July, then, might have been a terrific month for Irish sport, but, more importantly, it gave the judges the mother of all headaches.
But come the conclusion of the rather testing deliberations it was decided that the achievements of two more of our finest prospects, athletes Kate O’Connor and Rhasidat Adeleke, simply could not be overlooked.
In winning silver in the heptathlon at the European Under-20 Championships in Sweden, O’Connor became the first Irish woman to medal at any level in the event, and with a total of 6,093 points also became the first to pass the 6,000 points mark.
En route to her silver, the 18-year-old from Dundalk’s St Gerard’s athletics club produced personal bests in the javelin, the high jump and the 200m and was assured of a medal going in to the final event, the 800m. A battling third-place finish clinched her silver behind gold medallist Maria Vicente of Spain who amassed just 22 points more.
Meanwhile in Azerbaijan, Adeleke, the 16-year-old Tallaght AC sprinter, was adding to her collection of medals, which already included gold from the 200m at the European Under-18 championships in July of last year.
This time Adeleke returned home with two gold medals in her luggage, winning the 100m in 11.70 seconds and following it up two days later with victory in the 200m, in a time of 23.92 seconds – the only runner in the field to break the 24-second mark.
Up against the toughest of gifted young Irish opposition, then, O’Connor and Adeleke are our Sportswomen of the Month for July.
Previous monthly winners (awards run from December 2018 to November 2019, inclusive):
December: Mona McSharry (Swimming)
The Sligo swimmer ended her 2018 in some style at the Irish Short-Course Championships in Lisburn, collecting six titles in the space of just three days as well as breaking six national records. The highlight for McSharry was the breaking of Michelle Smith’s 23-year-old 100m freestyle record. And she’s carried on breaking records since, the latest the Irish 50m fly mark which she broke at May’s Glasgow International Swim Meet.
January: Phil Healy (Athletics)
The 24-year-old Cork woman took our January award for the second year running after an impressive start to the season, once again winning the 400m at the Vienna International Indoor Meet, ahead of European and World medallists Lissane De Whitte and Eilidh Doyle. She is back in action after breaking her foot in April, retaining her 200m national title last month.
February: Ciara Mageean (Athletics)
Another runner to have a sparkling start to 2019, Mageean opening the year by setting a new Irish indoor mile record in Boston, taking two seconds off her Irish Indoor 1,500m record before winning bronze in the 1500m at the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow. She’s in fine form ahead of September’s World Championships, knocking three seconds off her personal best for the mile at Monaco Diamond League last month.
March: Rachael Blackmore (Horse racing)
The Tipperary woman pushed Paul Townend all the way in the race to become Irish champion jockey, having the season of her life, finishing up on 91 winners. There were few better days, though, than when she picked up two Cheltenham successes, including the first Grade One victory of her career.
April: Leona Maguire (Golf)
After seven tournaments, all of her top 10 rivals having played one to three more, Maguire tops the rankings on the Symetra Tour, putting her on track for qualification for next season’s LPGA Tour. The highlight of her year so far was her victory at the Windsor Golf Classic in California, her first ever professional triumph.
May: Jenny Egan (Canoeing)
Having enjoyed an outstanding 2018, the 32-year-old member of the Salmon Leap club in Leixlip carried her form in to 2019, most notably in Poznan and Duisburg where, in the space of a week, she won two World Cup medals, missing out on gold in Poland by less than a second before taking bronze in Germany in another tight finish.
June: Katie Taylor (Boxing)
Our four-time Sportswoman of the Year achieved the goal she set for herself when she entered the professional ranks, unifying the lightweight division with her victory over Delfine Persoon in Madison Square Garden, Taylor describing her collection of every belt available to her an even more satisfying achievement than winning gold at the 2012 Olympic Games.