Loughgiel Shamrocks hurling team manager P J O’Mullan certainly carved his name with pride in 2012. He took the club to the Antrim, Ulster and All Ireland crowns, the first time the Shamrocks had achieved this since 1983.
O’Mullan’s feat is all the more commendable as Loughgiel’s phenomenal coup came on the back of six county final defeats that had threatened to sabotage morale completely.
But his tactical acumen, supreme dedication and inspirational motivational rhetoric ultimately brought Loughgiel on to the national throne for only the second time in their history.
Having already retained their Antrim and Ulster crowns, Loughgiel remain on course to make it back-to-back All Ireland titles and O’Mullan is currently preparing his charges for their All Ireland semi-final against St Thomas’s next month.
O’Mullan had stepped into the managerial breach when Loughgiel were at a distinctly low ebb yet he succeeded in transforming the club’s fortunes, their achievements on the park being complemented by the provision of magnificent new facilities at their impressive headquarters.
His club’s All Ireland triumph gained new-found status for Ulster hurling and O’Mullan, not surprisingly, is particularly anxious to build on this.
If patience is a virtue, then O’Mullan and his team may have had to exercise it in spades but now they have made the crucial breakthrough, who is to say they cannot remain the best club in the land.
Certainly the commitment, passion and fervour that marked their stirring journey through 2012 are still prevalent in the team’s psyche, which augers well for the future.
O’Mullan was in the running to become the new manager of Antrim prior to the appointment of Kevin Ryan but he withdrew for personal reasons — he is getting married in July.
Incidentally, O’Mullan took considerable satisfaction from Derry’s win in the All Ireland camogie final recently, having coached the Slaughtneil side, which provided the bulk of that team, to success within the Oak Leaf county.
It only goes to prove that if you want something done well, then give the job to a busy man!
Nominee - Stephen Baxter
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter continues to shine at Seaview. He has become one of the most respected coaches in Irish League football and enhanced his growing reputation in 2012.
The former striker guided the Crues to a dramatic penalty shoot-out Setanta Cup final victory over Derry City at the Oval with the north Belfast side becoming only the second Irish League outfit to win the All-Ireland trophy.
Crusaders also won the League Cup and reached the Irish Cup final proving that Baxter knows how to inspire his team in crunch matches.
Nominee - Neil Lennon
They called it one of the greatest results in Celtic's history and the man behind it was Neil Lennon.
The Lurgan native was in dreamland when his Celtic side defeated the mighty Barcelona at Parkhead in the Champions League group stages. The Hoops would later overcome Spartak Moscow in Glasgow to reach the last 16 of the biggest club competition in the world. Neil is now looking forward to locking horns with Italian giants Juventus.
While Lennon enjoyed great European nights in 2012, it was a successful year domestically too with Celtic claiming the Scottish Premier League under the former Northern Ireland international for the first time. The second should come in 2013.
Nominee- Michael Bannon
It was in 2012 that Rory McIlroy persuaded his long-time coach Michael Bannon to work with him full-time and start going to tour events with him. It is a move that has certainly paid off for McIlroy, who feels comfortable in the presence of Michael, who has been coaching Rory since he was a young kid filled with hopes and dreams.
Modest Michael may say different but surely it was no coincidence that Rory's best form of the year came after having more sessions with the softly-spoken Bannon, who knows just about all there is to know about the most famous swing in golf. Bannon certainly played his part in the Rory McIlroy success story of 2012.
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