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Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards: Red-hot race to net our top Star of Year prize

By Steven Beacom

Published 01/12/2016

Main man: The 2015 Sports Star of the Year Michael Conlan with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at our Sports Awards
Main man: The 2015 Sports Star of the Year Michael Conlan with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at our Sports Awards

Being named the Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year is one of the biggest accolades in Northern Ireland sport. And at the 2016 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, which will take place early next year, there are numerous contenders.

Every year the standard of performance from our sporting stars at home and abroad seems to get better and better. For the judges, who decide the winners of our awards, the decisions as to who should be presented as Sports Star of the Year have continually become tougher and tougher.

This time around may be the most testing of all. Northern Ireland has had an epic year in sporting terms and what has made 2016 so special is the fact that there has been such a variety of triumphs in different sports.

Jonathan Rea retained his World Superbike crown in sensational style while fellow motorcycle rider Michael Dunlop had another excellent year showing his class at the Isle of Man TT and Alastair Seeley broke the record for most victories at the NW200.

On four wheels, rally driver Kris Meeke starred, triumphing in Argentina for the first victory by a British driver in the World Rally Championship since 2002.

Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop also enjoyed golden moments in South America. Smyth came home first in the T13 100m in the Paralympics and McKillop was victorious in the T37 1,500m in Rio.

Swimmer Bethany Firth was also in stunning - and world record breaking - form in Brazil winning three gold medals (S14 100m backstroke, 200m freestyle, 200m individual medley) and a silver (100m breaststroke). What a spectacular effort.

Rory McIlroy's career has been full of them. Another came when he won the FedEx Cup in Atlanta in America in September.

Weeks before, McIlroy had been in New York to cheer on countryman Carl Frampton as he became the first boxer from Northern Ireland to win World titles at two different weights, defeating Leo Santa Cruz to claim the featherweight belt.

What a year it has been for Rory Best as Ireland's rugby captain. In the summer he led the team to a first Test victory in South Africa and in the autumn became the first man to skipper the nation to victory over the All Blacks. The men in green also beat Australia on the day he won his 100th Ireland cap.

Another inspirational leader, Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, also had a brilliant year, helping Michael O'Neill's men into the knockout stages of Euro 2016. Goalkeeper Michael McGovern, defenders Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley, and winger Stuart Dallas will be seen as contenders too.

In an outstanding effort, Enniskillen's Holly Nixon secured gold at the World Rowing Championships in Rotterdam as part of the Great Britain's Women's Four, while in the same regatta Coleraine's Joel Cassells and GB team-mate Sam Scrimgeour were third in the lightweight pairs. Cassells also retained his European men's lightweight pair title with Scrimgeour beside him.

Another notable achievement came from Dromore cyclist Mark Downey, who won gold at the UCI World Cup in Holland, coming out top in the Points race. Earlier in the season, he raced to a silver medal at the European U23 Track Championships too.

All of the above will be contenders for the Sports Star of the Year crown. YOU have the chance to play your part in the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards by nominating your favourites, and not just for the top prize.

We want to hear your choices for the Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year award, named after our late, great Sports Editor, the Team of the Year, Manager/Coach of the Year, Young Team of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Sports Person with a Disability prizes. Plus, tell us about those people who make unheralded, but significant, contributions to local sport at grassroots level. They may end up with a Local Heroes award or Special award on the star studded awards evening.

To nominate candidates you can email sportsawards@jcomms.co.uk or write to Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, c/o Jcomms, Sylvan House, 232-240 Belmont Road, Belfast, BT4 2AW. Please include your reasons why you believe they should win the award. Nominations close on December 9.

As well as looking for your nominations in the various categories of the 2016 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, you can also vote for Northern Ireland's greatest sporting moments of the year.

Please see the 10 options below... you can vote for your favourite at www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sport in the Sports Awards section.

• Gareth McAuley's Euro 2016 NI goal v Ukraine

•Carl Frampton beating Leo Santa Cruz

•Jonathan Rea retaining his World Superbike title

•Bethany Firth's golden world record

•Jason Smyth's gold at Paralympics

•Michael McKillop's gold at Paralympics

•Rory Best leading Ireland to victory over New Zealand

•Rory McIlroy winning FedEx Cup

•Tyrone lifting the Ulster Championship

•Alastair Seeley breaking Robert Dunlop's NW200 record

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