Belfast Telegraph

Our greatest sports star... who are you going to choose?

To celebrate the 20th Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, sponsored by Linwoods, and taking place on January 26, 2015, we want YOU to decide Northern Ireland’s greatest sports star ever. In alphabetical order, and continuing daily, Steven Beacom assesses the 20 legends shortlisted by a judging panel. Voting details below.

Dame Mary Peters: The one and only Dame Mary Peters is the one and only female on our short list and what a lady she is.

Mary is our Golden Girl, the woman who delivered a stunning and memorable Olympic gold medal for Northern Ireland in 1972.

Peters triumphed in the women's five event pentathlon in Munich, narrowly beating the local favourite, Heide Rosendahl, creating a new world record in the process. It was a remarkable triumph for a remarkable athlete, aged 33 at the time.

In those days not every single sporting endeavour was captured on camera like it is now...and big sporting occasions were all the more special for it like the day legendary athletics commentator Ron Pickering roared 'Come on Mary' in the final discipline of the competition, the 200m.

'Come on', she did racing to the line before having an agonising wait to see if she had sprinted fast enough to earn the colour of medal she craved.

Mary had done it and a nation rejoiced. Later when asked how she wished to celebrate her success, Peters said she wanted to give something back to Northern Ireland and have an athletics stadium built. Money was raised, the track was put down and is still in Belfast today, a lasting monument to a wonderful ambassador for the place we call home.

Of course Olympic gold wasn't her only success. Mary represented Northern Ireland at every Commonwealth Games between 1958 and 1974, winning two gold medals for the pentathlon alongside a gold and silver medal for the shot putt. And all the while, back then and today this 75-year-old oozes class and dignity. A sporting great around the world, there really is something about Mary.

Sean O'Neill (Gaelic football)

When  the best GAA players to ever play the sport are discussed, Sean O’Neill is always in the conversation.

People in the county of Down will tell you he is the finest of them all. They have a strong argument,

Look at this staggering list of triumphs and achievements and you will realise why.

Sean scored 85 goals and over 500 points for Down’s senior football team. He was also the inspirational figure behind the county’s epic All-Ireland victories in  1960, 1961 and 1968, an incredible run when you consider in the history of the competition only one other county from Ulster (Cavan) had previously took home the famous Sam Maguire trophy.

O’Neill’s credits also include eight Ulster senior football medals and a record eight Railway Cup medals between 1963 and 1971.

He also won three National League medals in 1960, 1962 and 1968, as well as six All Star awards. He claimed the Sigerson Cup with Queen’s University and won the Down Senior Football Championship many times.

During his illustrious career, Sean’s medal count was extraordinary.

It was no surprise that in 2000, he was honoured by the GAA by being named on their Gaelic Football Team of the Millennium.

Sporting honours may have come his way in abundance but O’Neill’s guiding principle has always been what he could do for the GAA rather than vice-versa.

This more than anything provides a real insight into the character of a highly impressive individual.

Sean has helped to promote several worthy causes and while garlanded as a sporting legend some time ago, he remains very much a gentleman with the common touch.

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