Northern Ireland’s record-breaking five-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea was once again the big winner at the 2019 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards as he was named Sports Star of the Year at last night’s ceremony at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Belfast.
On a fantastic night at Shaw’s Bridge, with the event held in the Crowne Plaza’s recently renovated Grand Ballroom and hosted by TV personalities Claire McCollum and Ruth Gorman, a capacity crowd gave Rea a standing ovation when it was announced he had won the top accolade at our Sports Awards for the third year in a row, beating Carl Frampton, Ayeisha McFerran and Rory McIlroy to the honour.
The 32-year-old held off the challenge of Alvaro Bautista in a thrilling Championship title race to win arguably the toughest of his five successive world crowns and, in the process, put himself forward for our big prize again.
It was a hard-fought season for Rea, who had to deal with the threat of MotoGP veteran Bautista as well as the Spaniard’s much-vaunted Ducati Panigale motorbike, and it looked like it would be a tall order when his rival won the first 11 races of the season.
But Rea never gave up the fight, kept the gap within reach and then went on a run that saw him win eight of the next nine races to overtake Bautista in the standings and put him within touching distance of that magical fifth title.
And, such was his form, Rea secured the world crown once again with two rounds to spare, winning the third race at Magny-Cours in France to start the title celebrations.
Of course, Rea has been a fantastic ambassador for Northern Ireland on the world stage, with the Ballyclare man an upstanding sports personality.
He was also awarded an honorary degree from Queen’s University in December for his services to motorcycling, something which he is greatly proud of.
“I’m honoured and thrilled to have won the Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year Award once again and I particularly want to thank the public who took the time to nominate me,” said winner Rea, who gave his thoughts from Jerez, where he is beginning testing ahead of the new season, via a live video link.
“Honestly, it means so much, especially as I prepare for the 2020 World Superbike season ahead.
“I’ve had a lovely break with family and friends over the festive period but I’ve really worked hard in the gym and on my training. I feel refreshed, I’m in great shape and fully focused on the first round of the season at Phillip Island next month.
“This week I’m testing in Jerez with my team at Kawasaki who have been awesome, keep me motivated and always have my back. They are just like family and together we are still hungry, determined and looking forward to going for our sixth World Superbike title in a row.”
It was a night for celebrating Northern Ireland sporting achievements across the board and, in total, there were 18 different winners from 11 different sports at our awards ceremony.
Football accounted for four of our award winners, while in a sensational year for golf given the success of The Open Championship, three people walked away with prizes for their services to the sport.
Teenage Holywood sensation Tom McKibbin was one of those rewarded for golfing achievements, winning the Rising Star Award for his outstanding performances in 2019, which saw him claim victory at both the Peter McEvoy Trophy in England and at the prestigious Sage Valley Invitational in the United States.
The success of Bethany Firth saw swimming recognised with two awards as the swimmer herself won the Sports Person with a Disability Award, while her coach Nelson Lindsay walked away with the Manager/Coach of the Year Gold Award.
It was a fantastic 12 months for Firth, the four-time Paralympic gold medallist performing phenomenally at the World Para-swimming Championships, winning two gold medals and a further two silver medals in a brilliant haul, aided by the superb coaching of Lindsay.
Cyclist Mark Downey (platinum) and long-distance runner Ciara Mageean (gold) were also rewarded for excellent years as they split the Player of the Year Award on the night.
Downey’s sensational season saw him become only the fourth Irishman ever to win a medal at the World Track Cycling Championships, returning home from Poland with a bronze medal after his dominant display in the points race, writing his name into the history books.
Mageean, meanwhile, also had a fantastic personal year as she too wrote her name into the Irish history books with some incredible individual performances.
Not only did the Portaferry runner finish with a bronze medal in the 1,500m at the European Championships, she also became the first Irish woman since Sonia O’Sullivan to qualify for the World Championship finals in Qatar, and then went on to run a personal best time to finish in a hugely respectable 10th position.
There were also several awards given out highlighting the work done behind the scenes by people at grassroots level, reflecting the incredible dedication from those at club level who perhaps haven’t had their hard work put into the spotlight before.
One of those prizes was the Local Heroes Award, which was given to Cushendall Golf Club member Paddy Rea for her fantastic work with young disabled people in the local area.
Rea set up a programme to help them get involved in sport and has seen it thrive in recent years, giving countless hours to ensure it has grown on a consistent basis.