Belfast Telegraph

Who will be our Sports Star of the year?

Rea, Lafferty, Frampton, Conlan and McCoy are in running for top Tele award

By Steven Beacom

It's been another memorable year for Northern Ireland sport. We have watched in admiration as our sporting stars have delivered time and time again.

And what has been so pleasing in 2015 is that new national heroes have emerged.

Take motorcycling ace Jonathan Rea, for example, who earlier this month became the World Superbike champion after a series of outstanding performances this season.

The Ballyclare rider has not been alone in filling the people of Northern Ireland with pride.

The country's football team, managed by Michael O'Neill and inspired by striker Kyle Lafferty, have captured the imagination of the public and are now on the verge of qualifying for the nation's first major championship since 1986.

Another team which enjoyed success this year was the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Youth squad, who won a bagful of medals at the 2015 Games.

Among the medal winners were young boxers, no doubt motivated by the marvellous feats of Carl Frampton and Michael Conlan in the ring this year with the former retaining his World title belt on two occasions and the latter claiming the European amateur title.

From unsung heroes to global sporting idols, we want your nominations 

Talking about titles, the great Tony McCoy collected his 20th jump jockey crown this year before riding into the sunset for a well earned retirement while Coleraine's Joel Cassells, starting out on his sporting journey, claimed gold at the World Rowing Championships.

All their achievements and many, many more will be celebrated when the Belfast Telegraph once again honours Northern Ireland's leading sports stars of the year at the Ramada Plaza Hotel on Monday, January 25.

And we want YOU, the readers, to help us.

Today we launch the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards for 2015, which are sponsored by Linwoods, and begin a selection process that will culminate with our star-studded banquet early next year when the winners will be revealed.

Regarded as Northern Ireland's most prestigious sports awards ceremony, the Belfast Telegraph is proud to celebrate our sporting successes.

Elsewhere on these pages, you can see how to nominate your choices for the various categories.

Last year our top prize, the Sports Star of the Year, was shared for the first time in the 20-year history of the awards when boxing sensation Frampton and golfing great Rory McIlroy were victorious.

The judges simply couldn't split the two Northern Ireland sporting favourites, one of whom had brought the country to a standstill in 2014 by becoming super-bantamweight champion of the world on an epic September night in Belfast and the other who won The Open Championship and US PGA crown in a spectacular year of Major glory.

The question is, who will walk away with the big prize at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards this time?

Well, while McIlroy's year was hampered by injury, Frampton will be a contender once again having won two title defences, first knocking out American Chris Avalos and then coming back from two knockdowns in the opening round to defeat Mexican Alejandro González jr on points in El Paso.

Another previous winner of the Sports Star of the Year award in with a chance is the unreal McCoy. He went out of his sport in style by winning the jump jockey title for the 20th year in a row.

At the glittering 2014 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards ceremony, the Moneyglass man was one of 20 sporting heroes in the running for the accolade of Northern Ireland's greatest sports star ever, as voted for by our readers.

It was won by the legendary Joey Dunlop, who of course was a motorcycling world champion. This year, Rea joined Joey on that illustrious list by finishing first in the World Superbike Championship.

Rea has come a long way since winning our Young Sports Star of the Year prize and is certain to be in the mix for the 2015 Sports Star of the Year trophy.

Footballer Lafferty has every chance too, thanks to his goalscoring heroics for Northern Ireland. In eight Euro 2016 qualifiers to date, the Kesh man has scored seven goals taking the team so close to next year's finals in France that they can almost reach out and grab the croissants.

In 2016, the place on Conlan's mind won't be Paris. Try Rio instead with the Olympics taking place in Brazil. The Belfast boxer came through a tough qualification process to make it to the Games, along with his good friend Paddy Barnes, and then went on to top the podium at the European Amateur Championships, being named the best boxer in the competition for good measure.

Also this year, Michael's brother Jamie was involved in one of the fights of the year, beating Junior Granados in Dublin to continue his march towards a world title shot.

Cassells already has a world title to savour having won the lightweight pairs gold medal at the 2015 World Championships in France.

It was a fantastic effort from Coleraine's Cassells, along with British team-mate Sam Scrimgeour.

Fellow Bannsiders Alan Campbell, Richard Chambers and Peter Chambers are well known for their daring deeds on waters around the globe and now Cassells has joined them as Northern Ireland continue to produce champion performers across the sporting spectrum.

There could be more glory to come should Ireland go far in the Rugby World Cup with Ulster stars Rory Best, Jared Payne, Chris Henry, Tommy Bowe, Iain Henderson, Darren Cave and Paddy Jackson all in Joe Schmidt's squad.

This long list is an indication of how successful Northern Ireland sport has been this year on a global stage. Maybe you can think of someone else who deserves to be considered for the main prize.

We also have the Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year award, named after our late, great Sports Editor, which is made to an Ulster player who competes and excels in the province and beyond.

The Team of the Year is always keenly contested while there's also the Manager/Coach of the Year, Young Team of the Year and Young Player of the Year prizes.

As usual, we'll go beyond the big back page headlines to honour our sportsmen and women with a disability and those people who make unheralded, but significant, contributions to local sport at grassroots level.

We don't want any deserved winners to miss out... and that's where YOU can help. Over the coming weeks, we'll update you with news about the forthcoming event and look at categories in more detail, but in the meantime, start getting those votes in.

Belfast Telegraph


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