Belfast Telegraph

Craig Doyle: 'Carl Frampton and Northern Ireland football team will feature at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards'

Belfast Telegraph Sports Award 2016

By Una Brankin

The Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards are in slick hands this year with host Craig Doyle, the handsome face of BT Sport, who is co-presenting with the BBC's Claire McCollum, best known for Songs of Praise.

The Dublin-born broadcaster is a frequent visitor to these shores, having had a long association with Waddell Media in north Down, which has produced most of his past light entertainment output for RTE and the BBC.

And there's another link, which resulted in the former Holiday presenter's Ulster Scots-tinged Christian name.

"My grandmother on my father's side grew up in Bangor - I think that's where I got 'Craig' from," he says. "I'm up here for BT Sport quite a bit, too. It's only up the road and the motorway's great now, and the kids love the science museum in Belfast. It's very impressive."

The main anchor for BT Sports' live Aviva Premiership and European Rugby coverage, Craig also presents the channel's flagship magazine show, Rugby Tonight, and is at the forefront of its MotoGP coverage.

The youthful looking 46-year-old also hosts ITV's Rugby World Cup coverage and is well-known in the motorsport world for his television work at the Isle of Man TT races for ITV.

Local motorcycling fans hit out after Jonathan Rea wasn't included on the shortlist for the 2016 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Craig hopes the Larne biker will do well at the Waterfront Hall gala ceremony for the Belfast Telegraph's extravaganza on February 6.

"I'm looking forward to it - I don't usually get to see that big a variety of sports people under one roof," he says, on the phone from his home in Co Wicklow.

"It's usually just a rugby or golf crowd. In my eyes, motorcyclist Jonathan Rea should get an award - he's a pretty incredible rider, and Ireland rugby captain Rory Best has been outstanding in the last 12 months."

The Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards come in the wake of boxing champion Carl Frampton's criticism of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award as "anti-Northern Ireland and anti-boxing", after he was not named on the shortlist of 16. Craig says: "Carl Frampton and the Northern Ireland football team will feature quite heavily at the Waterfront, I'd imagine. What Northern Ireland sports people have in common is pride - pride in where they come from. They're very aware of who they represent. You saw it in the Euros and the Northern Ireland fans were unbelievable, as good as the Republic's, especially against the Ukraine."

As an Irishman at the helm of sport in a very British institution, Craig sympathises with Rory McIlroy's apparent identity crisis when it comes to his nationality. The Holywood golfer recently claimed he doesn't know the words to either the British or the Irish national anthem.

"It's been difficult for Rory," Craig remarks. "He's a very loyal guy but he's grown up under the Irish golfing association's wing - they've held his hand and as a golfer he feels torn. I think he has shown incredible maturity for a young fella in the spotlight. I mean, he was being interviewed at the American and British Open when he was 17 or 18. I'd be mortified if I could listen back to what I was coming out with at that age."

Tall and always sharp-suited, Craig grew up in the well-heeled south Dublin suburb of Stillorgan, not far from his former RTE colleague and Late Late Show presenter Ryan Tubridy. Some of the clergy who taught him at the private Blackrock College (alma mater of his BT co-presenter and former Irish rugby captain, Brian O'Driscoll), hoped he'd follow in their priestly footsteps, but he originally wanted to become a veterinary surgeon.

However, he went on to study sociology and history at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, before heading to the London College of Printing for a diploma in broadcast journalism. Early stints on the Holiday programme and Tomorrow's World made him a household name in Britain, and he once owned a house in London, but he has been loath to move there full-time.

He lives in Barnamire in the Wicklow Hills, just beyond Enniskerry village, with his glamorous wife Doon, a former interior designer, four children, two dogs and two cats. After a long courtship, the couple married on January 7, 2002, and had their first child, Quinn, in December that year, followed by Milo (named after actor Milo O'Shea) and daughters Muireann and Elsa (named after the lioness in Born Free).

"I'd have a whole bundle if it were up to me - I love kids," says Craig. "Doon's full-time with them. She keeps the ship rolling; she's amazing. I go to work but I'm really only doing my hobby. She has a hell of a lot more patience than me.

"We wanted to bring the kids up at home, and to be near my parents, so I sold the house I had in London, in Kew. Dad's had a couple of health scares of late and mum's had colon cancer, but she's a very strong woman and she got through it all right." When he's not commuting for work or travelling around the world for rugby fixtures, Craig stays in London with his brother Keith, a BBC reporter and former Northern Ireland correspondent. In his free time, he plays golf and squash, but only an occasional game of rugby.

"I was the worst rugby player Blackrock College ever produced," he admits. "I broke my big toe playing a game once and it wasn't like you would be whisked to hospital straight away like you would be now.

"Then, the cure was to go out and drink five pints and hope it would take care of itself. So, I have that old injury from my bad rugby playing, but I did triathlon and represented Ireland at the World Championships in Hamburg, Germany, back in 2007."

Now firmly ensconced in sports broadcasting and his app business ventures, he has put his light entertainment days at RTE behind him and recently signed a new four-year contract with BT Sport.

He is open about the hurt he felt over the failure of The Craig Doyle Show and The Panel, which he hosted on RTE, recalling how he'd go to his local village for the paper and be met by the embarrassed faces of friends and acquaintances, who didn't know what to say to him.

"They'd go red and I'd go red. I found working in Dublin and living nearby a bit of a goldfish bowl existence - it's a pressurised atmosphere and it's not good for the head," he concludes.

"Now I'm commuting three or four times a week and travelling all over the world.

"That's my choice. In this business, it's great to be busy."

These prestigious awards honour Northern Ireland's top sporting achievers in both the amateur and professional arenas. Nominations came courtesy of sports fans, clubs, sports bodies, schools and the Belfast Telegraph sports team. The judging panel includes Dame Mary Peters, Shaun Ogle (Performance Director,Sport NI and Sports Institute), Angela Platt (former Ireland hockey player and NI Sports Forum member). The panel was chaired by Jim Gracey, Group Sports Editor, Independent News & Media NI).

The gala award ceremony, which attracts some of our most famous and successful sporting heroes, takes place in a brand new venue this year, Belfast's Waterfront Hall, on Monday, February 6. A black tie event, it includes a four-course meal and showcase videos (courtesy of BBC NI) featuring an NI Sports Review of the Year. As well as the coveted Sports Star of the Year title, category awards include Manager/Coach of the Year, won last time by Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill, Young Team and Young Player of the Year, the Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year, Local Heroes and Sportsperson with a Disability.

Other categories are the Special Recognition Award, George Best Breakthrough, Team of the Year and the WJ 'Paddy' Patterson Award for services to Sport, presented by the NI Sports Forum. And another Northern Ireland sporting legend will be inducted into the Belfast Telegraph Hall of Fame. Award winners last year included Martin O'Neill, Iain Henderson, Michael O'Neill, Michael Conlan, Steven Davis (left), the NI Football Team and NI Youth Commonwealth Games Team.

How to be a part of this special tribute to our sporting heroes

The gala awards ceremony is hosted by television presenters Craig Doyle and Claire McCollum. Tickets cost £70 plus vat (£84). To book, contact JComms, tel 028 9076 0066 or email sportsawards@jcomms.co.uk. Includes drinks reception (6.30pm), a four course meal and gala awards show.

Sponsors include Decathlon, McComb's Coach Travel, Volvo, Crowne Plaza, Active Financial Life, Celerion and Subway.

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