Northern Ireland golfing hero Darren Clarke has won another prestigious prize — having been named amongst the 2011 Texaco Sportstars.
It is the seventh time in his career that the Ulsterman has made the coveted list and this year joins the likes of Republic of Ireland defender Richard Dunne, Ireland rugby ace Sean O’Brien, record breaking cricketer Kevin O’Brien and GAA’s Alan Brogan, who helped inspire Dublin to All-Ireland glory.
The Texaco Sportstars awards are in their 54th year and highlight the achievements by those competitors from Ireland — north and south.
Few had a more rewarding year than Clarke who won The Open in July in such dramatic fashion.
While Darren’s friend Rory McIlroy was world golf’s pin-up boy and a short price favourite after winning the US Open in June, Clarke was freely available at 100/1 as he walked down the first fairway at Royal St George’s a few weeks later.
Despite having seriously considered quitting the game in April, after shooting an 81 in Morocco, the jovial 42-year was to carve his name into sporting immortality when, on the Sunday evening, after a remarkable three-shot success, he lifted the Claret Jug to become the oldest winner of the tournament since 1967, competing in it for the 20th time.
His win followed 53 unsuccessful attempts to win a major, but it was worth the wait.
Despite the demanding weather conditions he eased to a magical triumph, roared on by the fans, many of whom had travelled from his home country.
Recalling his win some days later, he revealed: “If I can, more majors is what I want, and if I do achieve that, fantastic. But if I don’t my name will always be on this Claret Jug.”
Also making history this year was Ireland cricket star O’Brien. During a World Cup match against England, needing 329 to win, he arrived at the crease with his team struggling on 111 for 5. O’Brien proceeded to hit six sixes and 13 fours in a mesmeric 50-ball century. Not only did he set a World Cup record for the fastest 100, he also brought England to their knees as his 162-run stand with Alex Cusack set up a victory that stunned the cricketing world.
The brilliant knock earned O’Brien a contract at Gloucestershire, who he rewarded with an amazing 44-ball century in a T20 match against Middlesex, a contribution that underpinned a total of 254 for 3, four runs short of equalling the world record set by Sri Lanka in 2007.
Namesake Sean O’Brien had a fantastic season helping Leinster win the Heineken Cup and also shining for Ireland in the Six Nations and World Cup. His displays saw him voted ERC European Player of the Year.
Aston Villa and Republic player Dunne is another who merits much respect for his inspirational efforts as the Irish team qualified for the Euro 2012 finals.
One performance in particular stood out as during a 90 minute siege against Russia in Moscow, Dunne was like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke. Nothing got past him in a 0-0 draw with the visitors earning a vital point.
Other Texaco award winners were Cavan boxer John Joe Nevin (pictured left) who qualified for the 2012 Olympics by reaching the semi-finals of the World Amateur Championships, becoming the first Irish boxer to win two medals at the event, and legendary horse racing trainer Willie Mullins, who was the leading trainer at Cheltenham this year. Hurricane Fly’s success in the Champion Hurdle brought particular joy to Mullins, who also had winners at the Irish Champion Hurdle and Hennessy Gold Cup.
In gaelic games, Dublin footballer Brogan and Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly were major players as their teams won All-Ireland titles leading them to be listed amongst the 2011 Texaco Sportstars, chosen by journalists on both sides of the border.
The awards will be presented in Dublin on December 8.