Coaches battle for big prize at Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards
Stephen Friel and Michael Hawkins proved to be a knockout success at the last Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, walking away with the prestigious Manager/Coach of the Year prize.
The double act were honoured for guiding five Northern Ireland boxers to medals in the Commonwealth Games last year.
So, who will follow them and pick up the prize for 2011?
There are certainly enough contenders with football bosses in with a major shout of making the stage at the big event at the Shaw’s Bridge Ramada hotel in January.
David Jeffrey is a previous winner of the award and will be in the running again after guiding Linfield to another Irish League and Irish Cup double. Under even more pressure than usual, as it was Linfield’s 125th year, Jeffrey came up trumps by inspiring a fifth double in six seasons.
Stephen Kenny also showed his credentials as a top notch boss by leading Derry City through a campaign in which they surpassed all expectations.
In their first season back in the top flight after financial woes, the Candystripes challenged for the Airtricity Premier Division title, eventually finishing third and qualifying for a place in Europe.
On top of their title tilt, City lifted the EA Sports Cup, beating Cork City in the final.
The title was won last week by Shamrock Rovers, under the leadership of Ulsterman Michael O’Neill.
It was the second year in a row that O’Neill, one of the brightest young managers in the game, had taken the Hoops to the Championship.
Rovers also this season became the first Irish side to reach the group stages of European competition by beating Partizan Belgrade in the final play-off round of the Europa League.
O’Neill’s achievements have put him in the frame for the Northern Ireland job — vacated by Nigel Worthington.
Brendan Rodgers would be in the running for the international job too, if he wanted it, but he is more than happy inspiring Swansea City in the Premier League at present.
Carnlough man Rodgers stunned football by taking Swansea into the top flight via the play-offs last season and is now proving himself adept in the best league in the world. The Welsh outfit are mid-table and playing superb football.
Away from football there are several other candidates, such as hockey’s Michelle Rainey who coached Pegasus to a rare All-Ireland double success in League and Cup.
In GAA, Tony McEntee and Gareth O’Neill guided Crossmaglen Rangers to their fifth All-Ireland Club football title — their first since 2007 — by defeating St Brigid's of Roscommon 2-11 to 1-11 on St Patrick’s Day at Croke Park.
Brian McLaughlin steered the Ulster rugby team through to the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup for the first time since their memorable triumph in the competition way back in 1999. Ulster also reached the Magners League play-offs.
Then there was Elaine Rice’s Northern Ireland netball team who qualified for the 2011 World Championships in Singapore, performing brilliantly to finish eighth.
This is a selection of some of the contenders for the Belfast Telegraph Coach of the Year Award — we’re sure you will have a few suggestions of your own.
As always, the standard is extremely high and the eventual winner will have to demonstrate managerial and coaching ability that sets them apart from the rest.