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BBC Sports Awards a night of triumph for Northern Ireland heroes Michael O’Neill, Damien Lindsay and Tony McCoy

By Ivan Little

Published 21/12/2015

Winner of Coach of the Year, Michael O'Neill during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Winner of Coach of the Year, Michael O'Neill during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Andy Murray is congratulated by Jessica Ennis-Hill
AP McCoy
Tyson Fury apologises
Michael O’Neill celebrates
Rory McIlroy with Niall Horan
James Nesbitt arrives

It started off like the infamous 'don't mention the war' episode of Fawlty Towers at the SSE Arena in Belfast yesterday with BBC executives trying to discourage any debate about boxer Tyson Fury.

But it ended as a night of triumph for Northern Ireland stars in their own back yard at the Sports Personality of the Year awards.

Not only did AP McCoy win the lifetime achievement award but Northern Ireland football boss Michael O'Neill also took the coach of the year title and a west Belfast man walked away with the unsung hero accolade.

On top of all that, at the biggest ever gathering of international sporting stars in Belfast, the province's globally-known legends - including Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Martin O'Neill Barry McGuigan and Dame Mary Peters - were in the SSE spotlight to hand over some of the trophies.

Co Antrim actor Jimmy Nesbitt was also recruited to lend his voice to a report about the European championship qualifiers and the Ulster Orchestra played.

And a Northern Ireland choir provided a magical musical soundtrack to the proceedings in front of a raucous sell-out 8,000 audience who roared at every mention of their homeland.

The winner of the overall award was, to the relief of BBC executives, the Scots-born tennis ace Andy Murray who inspired his Great Britain colleagues to Davis Cup glory, and they were rewarded with the team of the year title too. Privately the Beeb's huge team at the SPOTY awards had been dreading that Fury might win the coveted top honour.

Indeed sources even admitted they were hoping that Fury would stay away altogether and save them the embarrassment of having to deal with the fall-out from his headline-grabbing attacks on gay people, abortion, paedophilia and women.

Several of Fury's rivals for the top SPOTY award - F1 ace Lewis Hamilton, cyclist Chris Froome and athlete Mo Farah - didn't make it in person to Belfast for reasons apparently unrelated to the boxer's outbursts. Hamilton had caused some unexpected annoyance after he tweeted about not being able to make it "to Dublin". But friends of Fury insisted there was no way that a man who beat mountainous Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko to a pulp in the boxing ring would have run scared of controversy or of a Belfast protest by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups.

And near the end of a red carpet event in Titanic Belfast before the main ceremony at the SSE, the larger-than-life 6ft 9in Fury was the last of the 12 nominees to turn up.

Winner of 2015 Sports Personality of the Year Andy Murray during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Winner of 2015 Sports Personality of the Year Andy Murray during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Winner of Coach of the Year, Michael O'Neill during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Winner of the Unsung Hero Award, Damien Lindsay with his award during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Tony McCoy poses with his Lifetime Achievement Award during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Dina Asher-Smith and Carl Frampton during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday December 20, 2015. See PA story SPORT Personality. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Winner of Young Sports Personality of the Year, Ellie Downie during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday December 20, 2015. See PA story SPORT Personality. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Andy Murray during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday December 20, 2015. See PA story SPORT Personality. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Tony McCoy with his award during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Rory McIlroy onstage to present Winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Tony McCoy with his award during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Tony McCoy poses with his Lifetime Achievement Award during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Kevin Sinfield onstage with Leeds Rhino's teammates during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Winner of the Helen Rollason Award, Bailey Matthews during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Niall Horan and Rebecca Adlington during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Niall Horan and Rebecca Adlington during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Rory McIlroy and Niall Horan during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Ella Henderson, performing with Sigma, during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Tyson Fury and wife Paris before Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Adam Peaty on stage during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Adam Peaty on stage with Presenter Gabby Logan during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Max Whitlock on stage with Presenter Gabby Logan during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Max Whitlock performs on stage during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Max Whitlock performs on stage during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Lucy Bronze on stage during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Lucy Bronze speaks to Presenter Gary Lineker during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Lucy Bronze with the England Women's football team speaks to Presenter Gary Lineker during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Greg Rutherford speaks to Presenter Gabby Logan during Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Jenny Jones and friends on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Rory McIlroy and Niall Horan attends the Red Carpet for the SPOTY awards at Titanic Belfast on Sunday evening ,The BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015 is held at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Leeds Rhinos attends the Red Carpet for the SPOTY awards at Titanic Belfast on Sunday evening ,The BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015 is held at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Dan Carter and wife Honor during the red carpet arrivals for Sports Personality of the Year 2015, at the Titanic Belfast, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday December 20, 2015. See PA story SPORT Personality. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Tyson Fury and wife Paris before Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Tim Wheeler from Ash performs on stage before Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Michael Conlon and Paddy Barnes during the red carpet arrivals for Sports Personality of the Year 2015, at the Titanic Belfast, Belfast.
Tony McCoy before Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Shane Lowry speaks to Graeme McDowell before Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Eamonn Holmes speaks to Eddie Izzard on stage before Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Jessica Ennis-Hill in the crowd before Sports Personality of the Year 2015 at the SSE Arena, Belfast.
Kevin Sinfield pictured with team mates arriving at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year red carpet event at Titanic Belfast, the worldÕs largest Titanic visitor attraction Picture by Andrew Paton/Press Eye.com
Judy Murray on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
The Great Britain Davis Cup tennis team with Andy Murray on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
AP McCoy on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
Jenny Jones and friends on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - DECEMBER 20: gymnasts on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - DECEMBER 20: Adam Peaty attends the BBC Sports Personality of theon the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - DECEMBER 20: Pat Jennings on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - DECEMBER 20: The Leeds Rhinos on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - DECEMBER 20: Tyson Fury and his family on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - DECEMBER 20: Gymnast Beth Tweddle on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - DECEMBER 20: boxers Barry McGuigan and Carl Frampton with their partners on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
Credit - Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph Belfast , UK - December 20, Jessica Ennis arrives at the BBC SPORTS PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR 2015: RED CARPET in Belfast, Northern Ireland on December 20 ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )
PACEMAKER BELFAST 20/12/2015 Andy Murray attends the Red Carpet for the SPOTY awards at Titanic Belfast on Sunday evening ,The BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015 is held at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 20/12/2015 Kevin Sinfield attends the Red Carpet for the SPOTY awards at Titanic Belfast on Sunday evening ,The BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015 is held at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 20/12/2015 Andy Murray attends the Red Carpet for the SPOTY awards at Titanic Belfast on Sunday evening ,The BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015 is held at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Boxing Heavyweight Champion of the World Tyson Fury arrives at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards in Belfast
Boxing Heavyweight Champion of the World Tyson Fury arrives at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards in Belfast
Footballer Lucy Bronze arrives at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards in Belfast
Tyson Fury and his father pose on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
Paris and Tyson Fury pose on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
Andy Hill and Jessica Ennis-Hill on the red carpet at Titanic Building before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
Denise Lewis on the red carpet at Titanic Building before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
Lizzie Armitstead poses on the red carpet before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
Presenter Jordanne Whiley poses on the red carpet at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
Sameenah Toussaint (National Boxing Champion 13yr age group) and Blue Peter Presenter Radzi Chinyanganya on the red carpet at Titanic Building before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at the SSE Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
Unsung Heroes on the red carpet at Titanic Building before the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at Odyssey Arena on December 20, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
Eamonn Holmes during the red carpet arrivals for Sports Personality of the Year 2015, at the Titanic Belfast, Belfast. Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Dennis Taylor during the red carpet arrivals for Sports Personality of the Year 2015, at the Titanic Belfast, Belfast. Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Jay Beattie arrives at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Photo Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph.
Mike Gibson during the red carpet arrivals for Sports Personality of the Year 2015, at the Titanic Belfast, Belfast. Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Jason Mohammad during the red carpet arrivals for Sports Personality of the Year 2015, at the Titanic Belfast, Belfast. Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Sean Cavanagh during the red carpet arrivals for Sports Personality of the Year 2015, at the Titanic Belfast, Belfast. Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
The Unsung Heroes during the red carpet arrivals for Sports Personality of the Year 2015, at the Titanic Belfast, Belfast. Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Nicola Adams arrives at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Pic: Andrew Paton/Press Eye.com
Jay Beattie arrives at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Photo Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph.
Guests arrive at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Photo Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph.
Nicola Adams arrives at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Photo Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph.
Dame Mary Peters, Darren Clarke and Barry McGuigan with the Sports Personality of the Year trophy.

He posed briefly for pictures but didn't walk down the carpet to face an anticipated barrage of questions from waiting reporters. Inside the SSE there were a few boos as Fury's name was read out at the start of the awards ceremony and after he strode confidently on stage for an interview with presenter Gary Lineker the response was noticeably more subdued than for the other nominees.

Lineker, who'd earlier cut his hand on the SPOTY trophy, asked the boxer about the fall-out over his remarks which he had previously refused to withdraw. Fury twice indicated that he didn't understand the question.

But eventually the self-styled gypsy warrior whose mother was born in Belfast said that he had never intended to hurt anyone, adding: "It's all tongue-in-cheek, all fun and games to me. I'm not really a serious type of person. If I said anything in the past that's hurt anyone, I apologise."

Many in the crowd responded with a round of applause. Others clearly weren't convinced and athlete Greg Rutherford, who'd threatened to quit the awards process over the boxer's tirade, sat stony-faced with his hands by his side.

Even so, it was an apology the BBC must have wished had come a lot sooner to dissipate the row.

The Corporation had been determined that the demonstration by around 40 people outside the SSE wouldn't distract the eyes of the great British public from the great British institution that is the 61-year-old SPOTY ceremony.

But Belfast being Belfast, where protests are a virtual cottage industry, it was inevitable that the protestors would get their fair share of publicity, especially after the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein's culture minister Caral ni Chuilin joined the demonstrators.

Mr McGuinness said: "Fury's remarks were disgraceful, misogynistic and homophobic and they had no place in a modern society."

Ms Ni Chuilin said: "We also want to express our support for Andy West, the BBC reporter who was suspended for his online comments about Fury."

The new First Minister in waiting, Arlene Foster, also voiced her anger over Fury's comments.

"Let's just say I don't think I'll be rushing to get my photo taken with him. He's entitled to his opinion, of course, but I couldn't disagree with him more on everything he had to say," she said.

Scores of police were on duty all around the SSE and at Titanic Belfast as security was raised to a level not seen in the city for years. But the protestors weren't the major concern for the PSNI who mounted three roadblocks on the main entrances to the venues in a bid to thwart any possible attacks from dissident republicans or terrorists from farther afield.

For journalists covering the SPOTY awards it was a marathon and not a sprint finish as what they called the biggest night of the year also became one of the longest. Reporters had to be at Titanic Belfast several hours before any of the big names showed up. For photographers, the picture of Fury was the big prize but they were virtually falling over themselves in their frenzy to snap golfer Rory McIlroy and One Direction star Niall Horan as they swept along the red carpet.

Given that the sportsmen and women who'd been in Titanic Belfast are among the fittest human beings on the planet, it was perhaps surprising that they were bussed to the short distance to the SSE Arena where the atmosphere was described by presenter Clare Balding as electric.

But it just grew more euphoric as it became clear that Northern Ireland was playing more of a starring role than just hosting the awards.

The roof nearly came off the building when one of Northern Ireland's sporting greats Rory McIlroy came to the SSE stage to hand over a Lifetime Achievement award to another legend from just down the road, AP McCoy. The entire crowd were on their feet to give the world's greatest ever jump jockey a spontaneous standing ovation which McCoy, who retired earlier this year, had difficulty silencing to allow him to speak.

Eventually he said it was a great honour and privilege to receive the award, especially in Belfast from someone like McIlroy, one of our great sporting success stories. McCoy raised a smile by thanking not just the people who had helped him during his glittering career but also the 18,000 horses he rode along the way.

The McCoy award was announced in advance of the ceremony. But there was a more unexpected Ulster victor, too, as comedian Eddie Izzard, who was raised in Bangor, presented west Belfast man Damien Lindsay with the unsung hero award for his work with St James' Football Club.

Another more seasoned football man was recognised too. Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, who led his country to the Euro 2016 finals, was voted coach of the year, easing the tension on the faces of those BBC bosses who realised the Fury furore was no longer the big deal in Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph

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