Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Spoilt for choice with our emerging talent

Sycerika McMahon clinched a superb bronze in the 50m breaststroke at the European Short Course Championships in France

The depth of young sporting talent in Ulster is truly staggering, making the Belfast Telegraph Young Player of the Year award one of the most hotly contested accolades.

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Special Recognition Award



This award recognises outstanding achievement and is an additional award agreed by the judges.



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Last year’s winner Sycerika McMahon went on to have another incredible 12 months, putting her right back in contention to lift the award again.

Just last week Sycerika clinched a superb bronze in the 50m breaststroke at the European Short Course Championships in France, clocking an Irish record of 30.34 seconds in the final.

Sycerika, having just turned 17, became the youngest Irish medal winner in a major event when she took silver in the 50m breaststroke at the European Championships in Debrecen last May, also setting a new Irish record.

Sycerika also qualified for the London Olympics, a tremendous feat in itself, given the very fast times required.

She finished 26th in the 100m breaststroke and 22nd in the 200m individual medley, taking third in her heat.

These are certainly performances that suggest she will make a massive impact at the Rio Olympics, when — at 21 — she should be only just approaching her peak.

Iain Henderson is another of the excellent crop of youngsters coming through the Ulster system, the giant 20-year-old flanker/lock rising to prominence with Ireland Under 20s in the Junior World Championship.

In May he marked his first start as an Ulster senior with a try against Munster at Thomond Park, displaying a heady cocktail of skill, strength, power, raw aggression and determination in getting over the line.

Six months later he was making his debut for Ireland against South Africa at full international level. A star in the making, make no mistake.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill is fortunate to have several outstanding young players emerging at senior level.

One of the finest is 21-year-old Shane Ferguson, who opened his goalscoring account in Northern Ireland’s 3-3 friendly draw with Finland at Windsor Park in August.

He operates on the left flank and is establishing himself at Premier League Newcastle United under the astute management of Alan Pardew.

To have Ferguson operating in the Premier League at such a young age is a huge boost for O’Neill.

Ferguson was on the books of Derry City before joining Newcastle in 2007.

Kirsty McGuinness scored two goals for Antrim ladies in their All-Ireland win — 3-9 to 0-7 over Louth in the Junior decider — and also plays international soccer.

Despite being only 18-years-old, Kirsty is a full Northern Ireland international and a big part of manager Alfie Wylie’s plans for the future.

She was also involved with the under age teams that have progressed to the elite stage of their respective European Championships.

Katie Mullan is regarded as one of women's hockey's outstanding prospects.

The 18-year-old has already made her mark with the Ireland senior team having been a member of the squad that collected bronze medals at the recent Champions Challenge tournament in Dublin.

Katie learned her hockey trade at Ballymoney where she played from the age of 13 and now plays her hockey with UCD where she is a first year student.

She is also the holder of an All-Ireland camogie medal, having helped Coleraine win the Intermediate title in 2010.

In cricket, Andy McBrine was a member of Donemana's successful double winning side and Ireland's Under 19 World Cup squad, while Peter Eakin, at 17, is a regular in the North Down side and made his debut for the Ireland ‘A’ team this year.

With such gifted young talent in the province, the future is surely bright.

This is only a few of the contenders for the Belfast Telegraph Young Player of the Year award.

We’re sure you, the readers, will have your own ideas — and we would love to hear them.



Last year's winners

Sports Star of the Year: Darren Clarke

Hall of Fame: Mike Gibson

Player of the Year: Rory Best

Young Player of the Year: Sycerika McMahon

Team of the Year: Linfield FC

Young Team of the Year: Lurgan College girls' hockey team

Manager/Coach of the Year: Brendan Rodgers

Sports Person with a Disability: Sally Brown

WJ ‘Paddy’ Patterson Award: Danny Murphy

George Best Breakthrough Award: Peter Chambers

Special Recognition Award: Michael Dunlop

Local Heroes Award: Ian Sloan

The Purpose of the Awards

The purpose of the awards sponsored by Linwoods and supported by Sport Northern Ireland , is to identify sporting achievement and recognise those individuals, teams and organisations whose contribution to Ulster Sport is outstanding. Nominations for the awards may be made by organisations, governing bodies of sport, district councils, local sport councils and individuals.

Nominations close on Saturday 1st December at 5pm and can either be posted by clicking on one of the links above or by hard copy which should be no more than 200 words. Hard copy nominations should be posted to Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, C/O JPR, Sylvan House, 232-240 Belmont Road, Belfast BT4 2AW or email sportsawards@belfasttelegraph.co.uk.

Everyone who nominates has the opportunity to claim 5 x 20p off vouchers of Linwoods' Super Healthy Milk drink, a new low fat and fresh milk product enriched with probiotic and vitamins, plus some free Linwoods Healthy Super Food Seed samples.



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