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Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards 2015: Top quality race for Coach of Year title

By Frank Brownlow

The Belfast Telegraph Manager/Coach of the Year Award will be won by an individual with an ability to inspire and leadership qualities that are second to none.

A list of recent winners of the accolade bears this out - Brendan Rodgers, PJ O'Mullan, Donal Murtagh, David Jeffrey, Tommy Breslin and Liam Bradley to name but a few.

Last year's winner, John Conlan, guided the Northern Ireland Boxing Team to a record breaking nine medals - 75 per cent of the country's total haul of 12 - at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Michael Conlan - John's son - and Paddy Barnes won Northern Ireland's two gold medals.

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.

To nominate visit: Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards 2015

Michael O'Neill has performed wonders in leading the Northern Ireland football team to qualification for next summer's Euro 2016 finals in France - the country's first major tournament in 30 years.

O'Neill's side secured a first ever place at the Euro finals with a 3-1 win over Greece on a memorable night at Windsor Park last month.

And not only did Northern Ireland qualify in great style, they also topped a highly competitive group that also contained the likes of fellow qualifiers Romania, Hungary - who made it to France via the play-offs - as well as Finland.

O'Neill's leadership has been crucial while there have been several stand-out performers such as Kyle Lafferty, Steven Davis and Gareth McAuley.

Now the fans are counting the days to the draw on December 12 before the tournament starts on June 10.

Northern Ireland competed in the World Cup finals of 1958, 1982 and 1986 - but after such a long wait, next summer's extravaganza could be the most eagerly anticipated of the lot.

In the Irish League, Stephen Baxter steered Crusaders to their first title since 1997.

In hockey, Craig Fulton helped guide Ireland's men - with nine of the 18-strong squad from Ulster - to Rio next summer where they will become the first Irish hockey team to compete at an Olympic Games since 1908.

Ireland's record high fifth place at the World League in Antwerp proved to be enough to book their ticket.

In GAA, Mickey Harte continues to keep Tyrone up among the big guns, the Red Hands powering their way through to the All-Ireland semi-finals, bowing out to Kerry 0-18 to 1-11 at Croke Park.

In rugby, Neil Doak steered Ulster to the PRO12 play-offs, the Kingspan Stadium men going down 13-9 in the semi-final to eventual champions Leinster in Dublin.

Ulster were edged out in the pool stages of the European Champions Cup, finishing just a point behind Leicester Tigers in a group topped by eventual champions Toulon.

We're sure you'll have a few suggestions of your own for Belfast Telegraph Manager/Coach of the Year and we'd love to hear them. To vote, visit www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sportsawards2015

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