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From Euro glory to political history, it's been emotional

Published 26/12/2015

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

Who made the news in 2015 and who's set to hit the headlines next year? Claire McNeilly highlights five of this year's major movers and shakers and profiles some contenders for big things in 2016.

STEVEN DAVIS

Steven Davis enjoyed an outstanding, history-making 2015. In October the Co Antrim man became the first Northern Ireland football captain to lead his team to the European Championship finals... and he did it in style. Against Greece, with our boys needing a win to qualify for Euro 2016, Davis delivered at Windsor Park. Inspirational and irresistible, he scored twice in a 3-1 victory that sent his team to France. The 30-year-old dedicated his goals to his late mum Laura, who was his biggest supporter.

The only match Northern Ireland lost in the campaign was when Davis did not play because of an injury.

And the Southampton midfielder followed up his magnificent display against the Greeks with another match-winning performance at home to Latvia, netting the only goal of the game to end our seven-year run without victory in a friendly.

DR LEAH TOTTON

Reality show winners disappear without trace, right? Not if you're Dr Leah Totton, who triumphed in The Apprentice two years ago and is now the successful businesswoman she aspired to be in the series.

This was the year Londonderry woman Leah's London-based skincare and beauty business really took off.

It's now making a healthy profit for the 27-year-old and her business partner Lord Sugar - despite formidable hurdles. As Sugar himself admitted, Leah's win generated both hostility and adverse publicity from industry competitors, who sneered that a doctor was not cut out to run a clinic of the type she was proposing.

A first-year loss, mostly due to set-up costs, seemed to justify the concern, but Leah's belief in, and dedication to, her project is now paying big dividends. More Leah Totton clinics are in the pipeline, including, of course, one in her native Northern Ireland.

EAMONN HOLMES

Jeremy Clarkson's fall from grace meant somebody else would take over as the UK's top television presenter in 2015 - our own Eamonn Holmes. He may have ended the year requiring double hip surgery, but the 56-year-old Belfast man deserves a break after the most productive - and lucrative - spell of his 35-year career in broadcasting. Remarkably, during this year, Holmes simultaneously held contracts with FOUR of the UK's big five broadcasters. His day job is as anchorman on the Sky News Sunrise programme, but Eamonn, along with wife Ruth Langsford, also presents the This Morning programme for ITV on Fridays.

The father-of-four is an occasional presenter on Songs Of Praise and other programmes for BBC, and in 2015 he and Ruth fronted a six-part documentary for Channel 5 on the super-rich - a status he's now threatening to attain.

RACHEL TUCKER

It was the year Rachel Tucker was confirmed as one of Broadway's biggest stars - yet it all started off with her in a sinking ship. This was shaping up to be a pretty miserable year for the 34-year-old Belfast actress and singer after her debut vehicle in the Big Apple, The Last Ship, sank in January after poor reviews and calamitous ticket sales. But Rachel's performance as Meg Dawson, a woman caught up in a torrid love triangle, saw her heralded as one of the top 10 New York stage performers of 2014.

And, when the producers of Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre went in search of a talented lady to play Elphaba in the hit musical, they did not have very far to look. The Broadway Guide described Rachel's triumphant return to New York as "the stuff of dreams".

COLUM EASTWOOD

If someone had said six months ago that the SDLP's youngest MLA would become party leader by the end of 2015, that person would have invited howls of laughter. Yet here we are, with Colum Eastwood, a mere 32 years old, ousting Alastair McDonnell - a man more than twice his age. On reflection, perhaps it isn't such a surprise; Eastwood, after all, is no stranger to making political history, having served as Londonderry's youngest-ever major in 2010, when he was 27. And, just four months after being elected MLA for Foyle in 2011, he was nominated to stand as the SDLP's deputy leader, but declined the invitation.

Many expected McDonnell's leadership to be challenged after the anticipated carnage of the 2016 elections, and Mr Eastwood's early move was symptomatic of the confidence, drive - and youthful exuberance - that seasoned political observers felt the SDLP was lacking.

ARLENE FOSTER

Continuity appeared to be the keyword when Arlene Foster was appointed DUP leader recently, but the Fermanagh politician is clearly a lot more than a safe pair of hands carrying on the traditions of her predecessors. Who could have imagined, 12 years ago, that Mrs Foster, one of the so-called baby barristers of the Ulster Unionist Party, would enter 2016 as the unopposed new leader of their rivals? Indeed, who could have imagined the DUP being led by a woman who defected, disillusioned, from the UUP in 2003? The new year will begin with another slice of Northern Ireland history, with the formidable Mrs Foster becoming First Minister. The 45-year-old's in-tray will be dominated by Assembly elections, an accurate barometer of how the DUP are faring under someone unencumbered by the baggage of her predecessors. Continuity? It's more like revolution.

RICHARD DORMER

He has been living in the shadow of fellow Northern Ireland actors Liam Neeson, Jimmy Nesbitt and Stephen Rea for a long time, but now the bright lights of Hollywood are finally illuminating a path for Richard Dormer. His star turn as Belfast's godfather of punk Terri Hooley in Good Vibrations helped that 2012 movie become a critical and commercial success but, outside of Northern Ireland, the Portadown-born man was still "Richard who?" Not anymore, thanks to Dormer's remarkable performance as police chief Don Andersson in Sky Atlantic's Nordic chiller-thriller Fortitude. One of the most expensive television series ever made concluded with 46-year-old Dormer's character shooting Elena, the woman he loved deeply. Why? The millions who watched, rapt, know. A second series has been commissioned - and 2016 is set to be the most lucrative and high-profile of Dormer's career.

FOY VANCE

Foy Vance can't wait for 2016, and no wonder. The Bangor man has just been signed up by Ed Sheeran's Gingerbread Records label, and big commercial success surely awaits the talented 41-year-old.

Singer-songwriter Vance has been releasing quality music for almost a decade now and is highly regarded by key figures in the industry, including Sheeran. The multi-platinum-selling star is a good friend of Vance, who supported him on tour and collaborated with him on various projects. Indeed, two songs from Sheeran's chart-topping album X were penned by Vance. Now, however, Sheeran believes the time has come for Vance to become a major recording star in his own right, and the Ulsterman was delighted to follow Jamie Lawson as the fledgling label's second big signing. Lawson's album hit number one, and the smart money is on Vance emulating that achievement.

MICHAEL CONLAN

Will we be cheering another Olympic gold medallist from Northern Ireland in 2016? Michael Conlan certainly hopes so.

The 24-year-old Belfast boxer heads into the New Year as the number one ranked amateur bantamweight in the world, and by the end of 2016 he expects to have made his debut on the professional circuit.

Before that, however, is the small matter of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Michael is being tipped to go all the way.

The past year has been pretty special for Michael, who won European gold and became the first Irish boxer to take a World Boxing Championships title.

But nothing beats an Olympic gold and, with that pro career beckoning, this is the fresh-faced Conlan's big chance to add the ultimate prize to the Commonwealth gold he won two years ago. Here's hoping!

NIGEL ECCLES

He is Northern Ireland's answer to Mark Zuckerberg - and, like the Facebook mogul, will be enjoying billionaire status in 2016. Nigel Eccles is on course to become one of this country's wealthiest-ever people, yet rarely commands any column inches in the local media. The 41-year-old Cookstown native enjoys flying under the radar, but the sky's the limit for his online business - Fanduel, a fantasy sports gaming website that has garnered a staggering 200 MILLION users in the United States and Canada over the last couple of years. Edinburgh-based Eccles and his Scottish-born wife Lesley identified a loophole in US sports-betting laws, gambled everything they had on the idea - and Fanduel is now valued at $1bn-plus. Having ploughed all revenue so far into start-up and advertising, Tyrone farmer's son Eccles is now in the happy position of watching the millions roll in.

Belfast Telegraph

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