Belfast Telegraph

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

By Steven Beacom

Graeme McDowell (Golfer): Conditions were difficult, the course was tricky and the pressure was well and truly on. Who stood up to the test? Portrush native Graeme McDowell, that's who, in a magnificent display of tenacity and skill to win.

What a triumph his 2010 US Open victory at Pebble Beach proved to be.

G-Mac's outstanding win ended a 40-year drought for Europeans at the tournament as he held his nerve to triumph, claiming his first Major title.

Since then Northern Ireland has secured five more Majors. Not only then was it a historic victory, it was a hugely important one for this country as G-Mac's glory opened the floodgates with Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke enjoying magical Major moments in the years that followed.

McDowell would say himself he is not the most naturally gifted player or the longest hitter on tour, but if you ever wanted someone to play a hole for your life he'd be up at the top of the list.

It's a well known phrase in golf that when the going gets tough, G-Mac gets going. Look at his incredible performances in the Ryder Cup for example.

He has been a key figure in Europe's recent successes, never more so than in 2010 when needing to win his match so his team could taste victory, he delivered the goods, defeating Hunter Mahan amid all the tension in the final singles contest on the course.

And this year it was his amazing comeback victory against the USA's Jordan Spieth that sparked Europe into life on the final day to win the Ryder Cup again. A regular winner on tour, 35-year-old Graeme enjoyed a record breaking college career in the USA and continues to do Northern Ireland proud.

Tony McCoy (Jockey)

Quite simply the greatest jump jockey of all time. There isn't even an argument about it. He is in a league of his own and the figures bear that out.

In November 2013, Tony McCoy, who recorded his first winner in 1992 at the age of 17, took his total to a mind boggling 4000 winners when he rode Mountain Tunes to victory at Towcester.

Not long after that the 40-year-old was talking about going for 5000!

His desire and will to win is the stuff of legend in the racing world.

He has won all the big races from the Grand National to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but is just as keen to triumph at a lower grade meeting when hundreds rather than thousands are watching. It is that which sets him apart.

Winner of the 2013 Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year prize, McCoy told the crowd at the awards that he woke up every morning trying to improve himself as a jockey. That's the talk of a champion.

No wonder then that Tony has been Champion Jockey every year he has been a professional.

Even in his first season riding in Britain, as an apprentice for now retired trainer Toby Balding, McCoy won the Conditional Jump Jockeys Title with a record 74 successes.

Known throughout sport by his initials as AP (Anthony Peter), the Moneyglass marvel claimed his first Champion Jockey title in 1995/6 and, as of 2013/2014, had won 19 consecutive Champion Jockey titles, with another on the way.

In July this year, McCoy reached a significant milestone by surpassing the total of 4,191 winners, the number secured in the career of legendary trainer Martin Pipe. Born to win, there's just no stopping this sporting icon.

Thousands of you have already voted for Northern Ireland’s greatest sports star ever. If you haven’t voted yet please go to www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk and the Greatest Sports Star Poll and cast your vote by January 1.

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