Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards shortlists: Who are the nominees ahead of the big night?
The nominations are in for the 2019 Belfast Telegraph Sport Awards and, now that the shortlists have been compiled, the countdown is on to find out who will walk away prize-laden from next month's glittering ceremony at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Belfast.
The public have made their recommendations to our expert judging panel and we are delighted to reveal who could be in with a chance of being a winner when January 20 comes around.
The ceremony, hosted for the second year running by TV personalities Claire McCollum and Ruth Gorman, will see the best of Northern Irish sport come together to recognise the amazing achievements of our sporting elite over the last 12 months.
The one they all want to win is, of course, the Sports Star of the Year and, after a phenomenal 12 months for Northern Irish sport, there's a strong shortlist in the running for the accolade.
Chief among them is defending champion Jonathan Rea, who won his fifth consecutive World Superbike title this year and will be keen to defend his crown having been nominated once more following arguably his greatest championship win to date.
He will, however, face strong competition from boxer Carl Frampton, who bounced back into the ring with victory over Tyler McCreary last month; Ireland hockey goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran, who helped her country qualify for their first ever Olympics; and golfer Rory McIlroy, who won four tournaments and the FedEx Cup in a stellar year.
The Sportsperson with a Disability Award has five excellent nominees, with para-swimmer Bethany Firth, who is nominated for three gongs, competing with wheelchair basketball player Ross Davidson, tennis player Brian Lenehan, boccia player Claire Taggart and the Northern Ireland powerchair football squad.
Recognising youth is a big part of our awards, with the Young Player of the Year going to one of golfer Beth Coulter, rower Molly Curry, rally driver Daniel Harper or runner Oliver Swinney; with horse riders John McEntee and Niamh McEvoy, Schools' Cup rugby winners Methodist College, the Northern Ireland Schools football team and Hogan Cup winners St Michael's, Enniskillen all in the running for the Young Team of the Year.
Coulter and Harper are both also vying for the Rising Star award, which recognises someone who has taken big strides in their development this year, along with Ulster Rugby ace Robert Baloucoune and golfer Tom McKibbin.
The Game Changer award, given to a female athlete who has had a major impact on the sporting landscape in 2019, will be contested by former Tyrone captain Gemma Begley, swimmer Firth, Northern Ireland footballer Ashley Hutton and Irish Football Association women's domestic manager Gail Redmond.
Once again, several awards are split into two categories in order to recognise achievements at various levels, with platinum covering the professional side of sport, while gold acknowledges amateur achievements.
The main award to be split in such a way is the Player of the Year, which will be contested at platinum level by Ulster Rugby star John Cooney, cyclist Mark Downey, Northern Ireland international footballer Jonny Evans and World Invitational golf champion Stephanie Meadow; while the gold award has Firth, runner Ciara Mageean, gymnast Rhys McClenaghan, Ireland hockey captain Katie Mullan and para-runner Jason Smyth in the mix.
Similarly, the Team of the Year will see the platinum award given to one of the Belfast Giants ice hockey team, the Northern Ireland men's football team, cycling's Team Joe Barr or Ulster Rugby; with the gold award contested by the CIYMS cricket team, Kilcoo's gaelic football team, Slaughtneil's camogie side and Pegasus hockey club.
The final split award will be for the Manager/Coach of the Year, which sees Ireland women's hockey coach Sean Dancer, Linfield manager David Healy and Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill in the running for the platinum gong; while Liam Haslem, swimming coach Nelson Lindsay, Kilcoo manager Micky Moran and Pegasus hockey coach Greg Thompson are up for gold consideration.
There are also several awards handed out on the night that don't have shortlists but will instead be presented on behalf of the judging panel, who have chosen the winners already.
The George Best Breakthrough Award, named after the legendary Manchester United and Northern Ireland superstar, will recognise the up-and-coming talent of one of our newest sporting heroes who has started to make an impact in their sport in 2019 and can go on to reach higher levels in future years.
Away from the sports that are showcased on a global stage, we also give recognition to those who make a difference at grassroots level through our Local Heroes Award, which will be given to someone who has done extraordinary work at club or youth level within their sport while, similarly, the WJ Paddy Patterson Award gives recognition to someone who has devoted countless hours to the administration or coaching side of the game.
There will also be a Special Recognition Award, which will be given to someone who has achieved a significant sporting achievement this year and perhaps does not fall into one of the categories but still deserves to be celebrated for what they have done.
And, as always, the night will see one of our legendary sporting stars inducted into our Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Lady Mary Peters, George Best, Pat Jennings, Willie John McBride, Mickey Harte, Barry McGuigan and AP McCoy in being forever hailed as one of the greats of Northern Irish sport.
It is set to be a fascinating night at the Crowne Plaza as we recognise some of the top sportspeople and teams in Northern Ireland - all that's left now is to wait and see who walks away the big winners!
Sports Star of the Year
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CARL FRAMPTON: Bounced back into the ring with a big win over Tyler McCreary in November.
AYEISHA McFERRAN: Integral in helping Ireland’s hockey team qualify for their first ever Olympic Games.
RORY McILROY: Won four tournaments and the FedEx Cup, was also named PGA Tour Player of the Year.
JONATHAN REA: Won his fifth successive World Superbike championship.
Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year (Platinum)
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JOHN COONEY: Was one of Ulster’s stand-out players in 2019 despite missing out on the Ireland World Cup squad.
MARK DOWNEY: Won a bronze medal in the Points race at the Track Cycling World Championships, Ireland’s first medal since 2014.
JONNY EVANS: A key member of the Northern Ireland squad that secured a playoff spot for Euro 2020.
STEPHANIE MEADOW: Won the World Invitational at Galgorm Castle back in July and retained her LPGA Tour card.
Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year (Gold)
BETHANY FIRTH: Won two gold medals and a silver at the Worlds in London.
CIARA MAGEEAN: Qualified for the Olympics and ran an Irish record in the 1500m at the Worlds, also won cross country silver at the Europeans.
RHYS McCLENAGHAN: Won a bronze medal on the pommel horse at the Worlds, which also qualified him for the Olympics.
KATIE MULLAN: Captained Ireland’s hockey team to their first ever Olympic Games.
JASON SMYTH: Won his eighth World gold and continued a sensational unbeaten run in the T13 100m.
Young Player of the Year
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BETH COULTER: Won the Irish Girls’ Close golf tournament and represented Ireland at the Vagliano Trophy, Europeans and Home Internationals.
MOLLY CURRY: Represented Ireland in rowing at the Junior Worlds in Tokyo and also claimed the British and Irish single skulls titles.
DANIEL HARPER: Won the Porsche Carrera Cup GB drivers’ title.
OLIVER SWINNEY: Won the 60m sprint titles at Ulster, Northern Ireland and Irish Under-17 level and gold at the 100m in the interpros for Ulster.
Team of the Year (Platinum)
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BELFAST GIANTS: Won the Elite League and Challenge Cup titles, also reached the finals of the Playoffs and Continental Cup.
NORTHERN IRELAND MEN’S FOOTBALL TEAM: Secured a playoff spot for Euro 2020.
TEAM JOE BARR: Won his age category in the Race Across America and set a course record at the Sebring 24hr race.
ULSTER RUGBY: Reached both the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup and the semi-finals of the Guinness PRO14.
Team of the Year (Gold)
CIYMS CRICKET TEAM: Completed a sensational treble by winning all three of the NCU’s major trophies.
KILCOO GAELIC FOOTBALL TEAM: Won the first Ulster Club title in their history.
PEGASUS HOCKEY TEAM: Completed the double by winning both the Irish Hockey League and the playoffs.
SLAUGHTNEIL CAMOGIE TEAM: Won their fourth Ulster Club title in a row.
Young Team of the Year
JOHN McENTEE AND NIAMH McEVOY: Won gold at the European Pony Show Jumping Championships as a team.
METHODIST COLLEGE BOYS’ RUGBY FIRST XV: Won the Schools’ Cup title in an unbeaten year.
NORTHERN IRELAND SCHOOLS UNDER-18 FOOTBALL TEAM: Won the 2019 Centenary Shield.
ST MICHAEL’S, ENNISKILLEN: Won Fermanagh’s first ever Hogan Cup title.
Manager/Coach of the Year (Platinum)
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SEAN DANCER: Coached the Ireland women’s hockey team as they qualified for their first ever Olympic Games.
DAVID HEALY: Won the Danske Bank Premiership with Linfield and nearly qualified for the Europa League groups.
DAN McFARLAND: Led Ulster to the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup and the semi-finals of the Guinness PRO14.
MICHAEL O’NEILL: Helped NI qualify for the Euro 2020 playoffs, earning him a job at Stoke City.
Manager/Coach of the Year (Gold)
LIAM HASLEM: Coached the Northern Ireland karate team to their greatest ever medal haul at the Worlds in Serbia.
NELSON LINDSAY: Coached Bethany Firth to three medals at the Worlds.
MICKEY MORAN: Led Kilcoo’s gaelic football team to the first Ulster Club title in their history.
GREG THOMPSON: Coached Pegasus to their domestic double.
Rising Star Award
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ROBERT BALOUCOUNE: Burst onto the scene with Ulster, scoring six tries in his debut season.
BETH COULTER: See Young Player of the Year
DANIEL HARPER: See Young Player of the Year
TOM McKIBBIN: Won the prestigious Junior Invitational golf tournament in the USA
Sportsperson with a Disability of the Year
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ROSS DAVIDSON: A stand-out player for Knights Wheelchair Basketball Club, is on track for the 2022 Commonwealths.
BETHANY FIRTH: See Player of the Year
BRIAN LENEHAN: Defended his National visually impaired tennis crown, also won titles in Loughborough and Newcastle.
NORTHERN IRELAND POWERCHAIR FOOTBALL SQUAD: Finished fifth at the European Championships, thereby qualifying for the World Cup in 2021.
CLAIRE TAGGART: Won six boccia medals, the NI and UK Championships, and reached the World Open quarter-finals.
Game Changer Award
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GEMMA BEGLEY: The sole employee of the Women’s Gaelic Players Association has set up many initiatives for players beyond the pitch.
BETHANY FIRTH: See Player of the Year
ASHLEY HUTTON: Won her 100th cap for Northern Ireland earlier this year and has been involved in work off the pitch too.
GAIL REDMOND: First team coach at Glentoran as they won a domestic treble, while also works at the IFA as Women’s Development Manager.
Local Heroes Award
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BRENDA LOUGHRAN: Won the All-Ireland Ladies Junior Football title at 53 alongside daughter Angela (17).
ST MICHAEL’S, ENNISKILLEN: See Young Team of the Year
CIARA MARLEY: Coached St Catherine’s to Ulster and All-Ireland Schools’ titles while pregnant.
PADDY REA: Organises golf for the disabled at Cushendall GC.