This is officially the gloomiest time of the year. The Christmas festivities are but a memory, the credit card bills are due, it's weeks yet to the next pay day for many, and we live like moles, getting up when it is dark, spending daylight hours in work and then coming home when it's dark again. So then we should be really thankful to our sports stars for offering us some joy amid the gloom.
The weekend just past was a vintage one for local sports fans. First of all we had the Ulster rugby team trouncing, nay humbling, Leicester, one of England's premier rugby clubs, to move within a hairsbreadth of qualifying for the next round of the prestigious Heineken Cup.
Then there was the fairytale win by Amateur League side Newington Youth Club over the mighty Glentoran in the Irish Cup. And to round off the romance of the underdog, Swansea City, managed by Carnlough man Brendan Rodgers, beat Arsenal in the English Premier League.
Those were three results to gladden the heart of any fan - except supporters of the beaten teams. But they do more than that. Sporting success has the ability to spread a feelgood factor throughout the community, not just among diehard sports lovers. We can all remember the wins earlier this year by our golfing superstars, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy, in lifting the British and US Open titles. Their success made Northern Ireland a byword for golfing excellence throughout the world and made us all feel proud to come from this tiny province.
And, quite rightly, last night the province gave one of those superstars, Darren Clarke, something back by voting him the Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of 2011.
Darren has known triumph and tragedy in equal measure and that has endeared him to the Ulster public. So too has his common touch. He is a deserving winner of our top sporting award and let us hope that he picks up more golfing titles in the year ahead.