Belfast Telegraph

Battle for our youth award augurs well for Ulster sport

By Graham Luney

The future of Northern Ireland sport is in good hands and the Belfast Telegraph is proud to shine a light on the emerging talent making a big impact.

The Young Player of the Year prize at the 2016 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards is one of the most fiercely contested categories thanks to the extraordinary exploits of our gifted teenagers.

Talented swimmer Conor Ferguson left with the 2015 award and on February 6 we will find out who follows in his footsteps at the 2016 ceremony which will be presented by Claire McCollum and Craig Doyle in front of a star-studded line-up at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

The Young Player of the Year prize, proudly sponsored by Decathlon Belfast, recognises the determination and drive of those who are rapidly winning admirers. Conor scooped gold in the 100m backstroke at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa as well as silver in the 100m and 50m, having also picked up two silvers at the European Youth Olympics.

Competing for the huge honour this time round are Olivia Mehaffey (golf), Owen Cathcart (table tennis), Chris Cumming (downhill mountain biking) and Rhys McClenaghan (gymnastics).

Banbridge golfer Olivia won a Special Recognition prize at last year's awards ceremony for her superb efforts in 2015 when she won a third successive Irish Girls' Strokeplay Championship, the Scottish Amateur Open and Welsh Amateur Open.

The 18-year-old amateur star, who is currently ranked number three in the world, played a key role in last year's GB&I Curtis Cup success.

Owen Cathcart became the first person from Northern Ireland to win a world pro-tour table tennis event. He beat off all competition at the Open World Junior Circuit in Belgium.

Mountain biker Chris Cumming won races at all levels including the European IXS Rookie Cup, British Downhill Series and the Irish Downhill Series.

Rhys McClenaghan, from the Rathgael Gymnastics club in Bangor, also has a spring in his step after clinching a superb bronze behind Max Whitlock and Louis Smith in the pommel horse event at the British Championship in Liverpool and then becoming the first ever Irish gymnast to earn a medal at a European Championships.

The talented teenager scooped a silver medal in the pommel horse section and finished 13th in the All-Round competition in Switzerland.

Decathlon Belfast are proud to support the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.

"We are delighted to be involved with the 2016 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards," a company spokesperson said.

"As one of the World's largest sports retailers we strive to make sport accessible to all. This is reinforced in our company motto 'Sport for All - All for Sport'. Our products are aimed at all enthusiasts from beginners to experts. 

"The 'Young Player of the Year' is an award that we were keen to sponsor. The commitment and dedication shown by these young athletes to achieve their goals is remarkable and highlights the talent being produced in Northern Ireland."