Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

Joey Dunlop voted as Northern Ireland's Greatest Sports Star

By Steven Beacom

Modest, unassuming, genuine, caring and the best motorcycle rider of them all.

That was Joey Dunlop.

And according to Belfast Telegraph readers, he is also Northern Ireland's Greatest Sports Star ever.

Dunlop, who died in 2000 racing in Estonia, was voted number one in a special poll to mark the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.

After 20 sporting greats from Northern Ireland were shortlisted by an expert panel, the decision was handed over to the public who gave their verdict in their thousands, with the legendary Joey coming out on top. Iconic footballer George Best finished runner-up and four-time Major winning golfer Rory McIlroy was third.

Had Joey been around today he would probably have been wondering what all the fuss was about.

Revered and respected, Dunlop was also loved by the people of Northern Ireland, not just for his breathtaking ability on a bike but also his wonderful charitable work, for which he received an OBE.

Winning may never have been the be all and end all for Joey, but that didn't stop him recording many memorable triumphs.

He won the TT Formula One World title five consecutive times between 1981 and 1986 and crossed the finish line first at the Ulster Grand Prix 24 times and the North West 200 13 times.

Dunlop is perhaps best known though for his astonishing success at the Isle of Man TT, where he amassed an amazing record total of 26 race victories at the event regarded as the ultimate in road racing.

While Joey was head of the Dunlop dynasty, his younger brother Robert was also a brilliant rider. Robert's gifted sons Michael and William continue to keep the family tradition going.

Mervyn Whyte, Race Director of the North West 200, was a long time friend of Joey's and provides a telling insight into the man and why, 15 years after his untimely death, he remains as popular as ever.

"Joey was just an ordinary guy with no airs or graces. The motorbike scene never went to his head at all. He just got on with the job," said Mervyn.

"He was as natural as they come and success meant very little to him. He was always very helpful and supportive and of course supported several charities. That was the type of guy he was.

"As a racer Joey was the best all round rider there was.

"He could have won any race in the world, but he didn't want it.

"Even though he was settled here in Northern Ireland and happy racing at the North West and the Isle of Man TT, he was still a worldwide institution in motorcycling. Everyone from other riders to supporters respected Joey.

"When I was out in Macau last year I got talking to bike fans supporting the racing and the only person they ever mentioned was Joey Dunlop.

"He put motorcycling on a worldwide map. I really believe it's because of him that motorcycling has become so big around the world."

Joey's daughters Donna and Joanne collected the prize for the Greatest Ever Sports Star while Ian Best, brother of the late, great George, was presented with the runner-up trophy.

The other 17 sporting greats shortlisted in alphabetical order were: Peter Canavan (GAA), Darren Clarke (Golf), Peter Doherty (Football), Carl Frampton (Boxing), Mike Gibson (Rugby), David Healy (Football), Alex Higgins (Snooker), Paddy Hopkirk (Rallying), Pat Jennings (Football), Jack Kyle (Rugby), Dave McAuley (Boxing), Willie John McBride (Rugby), Tony McCoy (Horse Racing), Graeme McDowell (Golf), Barry McGuigan (Boxing), Sean O'Neill (GAA) and Dame Mary Peters (Athletics).

Take a bow: the Sports Awards roll of honour...

Sports Stars of the Year  (sponsored by Linwoods):  Carl Frampton and Rory McIlroy

NI's Greatest Sports Star Ever (as voted by Belfast Telegraph readers): 1. Joey Dunlop 2. George Best 3. Rory McIlroy

Hall of Fame (sponsored by Belleek): David Healy

Team of the Year (sponsored by Outlet): NI Commonwealth Games Boxing squad

George Best Breakthrough Award (sponsored by Ramada): Conor McLaughlin

Coach of the Year Award (sponsored by Volvo): John Conlan

Paddy Patterson Award (sponsored by NI Sports Forum): Doreen Miskelly

Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year (sponsored by Linwoods): Andrew Trimble

Local Heroes award (sponsored by Sport NI): Anto Finnegan

Sports Star with a Disability (sponsored by National Lottery): Kelly Gallagher

Special Recognition Award (sponsored by Centra): Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan

Young Team of the Year (sponsored by Sport NI): Portora Royal School Boat Club Boys Junior Coxed Eights

Young Player of the Year (sponsored by mamba): Chloe Watson

Further reading

It's a knock-out night for Northern Ireland's boxers at Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards David Healy nets a place in Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards hall of fame Rory McIlroy and Carl Frampton double tops at Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards 2014 Rory McIlroy and Carl Frampton share Belfast Telegraph Sports Award top prize and inspirational Amy Uprichard does honours