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Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards 2015: Battle under way to make this year's big breakthrough

By Frank Brownlow

Published 25/11/2015

Best man: Conor McLaughlin receives his George Best Breakthrough Award from Brian Thornton (right), general manager Ramada Plaza Hotel, and Tyrone legend Peter Canavan
Best man: Conor McLaughlin receives his George Best Breakthrough Award from Brian Thornton (right), general manager Ramada Plaza Hotel, and Tyrone legend Peter Canavan

The George Best Breakthrough Award goes to an individual who has risen spectacularly in the past 12 months and is particularly poignant this year on the 10th anniversary of the Ulster legend's passing. Rory McIlroy heads an illustrious list of past winners of the award.

The Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards identify outstanding sporting achievement and recognise individuals and teams making a unique contribution to Ulster Sport.

The winners of the 2015 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards - supported by overall sponsor Linwoods - will be announced at a glittering bash at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast on January 25.

Conor McLaughlin won the George Best Breakthrough Award last year after establishing himself in Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland team.

McLaughlin went from playing in the lower divisions with Fleetwood Town straight onto the international stage, nailing down a regular place.

Other recent winners include track cyclist Martyn Irvine, who became a world champion in 2013, and boxer Michael Conlan, bronze medallist in the flyweight division at the London 2012 Olympics.

Former winners also include footballers Craig Cathcart and Niall McGinn and boxer Martin Rogan.

There are plenty of contenders for this year's accolade.

Michael McGovern has forced his way into the Northern Ireland team in the past few months.

The goalkeeper is pushing experienced fellow Fermanagh stopper Roy Carroll all the way for a starting place at next summer's Euro 2016 finals in France.

Stuart McCloskey has established himself as one of Ulster Rugby's brightest stars.

The 23-year-old centre has already represented Emerging Ireland and the Bangor ace is tipped to establish himself at international level.

Mattie Donnelly played a crucial role in Tyrone's surge to the All-Ireland semi-final.

The 24-year-old from Trillick was rewarded with an All-Star and also played for Ireland in the International Rules win over Australia at Croke Park at the weekend.

Sammy Jo Bell has had a sensational year, racking up 24 winners in her challenge for the Apprentice Jockeys Championship.

The highlight was the Shergar Cup at Ascot in August in which she inspired the women's team to success, with the 24-year-old from Dunadry emerging as winner of the Silver Saddle for the top rider in the event ahead of some of the best jockeys around.

Patrick Huston can make a big impact at next summer's Rio Olympics after hitting gold in the Indoor Archery World Cup in Marrakech at the weekend.

The 19-year-old from Belfast won the recurve event.

We're sure you'll have a few suggestions of your own for the George Best Breakthrough Award and we'd love to hear them.

To vote, simply visit www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sportsawards2015

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