Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland heroes honoured at Belfast Telegraph Sports awards 2018

By Allan Preston

Local sporting heroes were dressed to impress last night at the annual Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.

There was no shortage of triumphs to celebrate at the glittering Waterfront Hall event, and it was four-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea who was named Sports Star of the Year for the second time.

"Seventeen race wins was beyond my wildest dreams," he said, singling out his double victory in Imola, Italy, as his personal high point.

"That gave the momentum to carry us through the middle part of the year, and from Laguna forward we just won every race. It was just a huge bubble we were living in for that summer period."

Asked what keeps him out in front, the Ballyclare racer said: "To be honest, it's about the fear of not being the guy, of not winning. You feel smarter each year, but there's always areas I can improve."

Awards were presented in two categories last night: platinum for professionals and gold for amateurs.

Football manager Oran Kearney was named Coach of the Year (platinum), having won the Irish Cup with Coleraine before getting the call to manage Scottish Premiership side St Mirren. He admitted watching footage of the winning moment of the Irish Cup final hundreds of times.

"The emotion of it was brilliant and will live with me for a long time," he said.

Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte was named the gold Coach of the Year after leading his team to the All-Ireland final.

Ice hockey stars the Belfast Giants were platinum Team of the Year, while Waringstown Cricket Club took gold.

Cricketer James Mitchell (22) said strong friendships on and off the pitch were key. "I think what's special about our team is that we're all mates and we work hard for each other," he said.

After announcing himself as a new force in world rugby, Ulster and Ireland hero Jacob Stockdale was named the Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year (platinum).

Ayeisha McFerran was named gold Player of the Year for helping the Irish hockey team to the World Cup final and being named goalkeeper of the tournament.

Also attending was Northern Ireland football manager Michael O'Neill, who said he was glad to be staying on at the helm.

"I have no regrets," he said.

His top sporting moment outside football? "Easily, it's Rhys McClenaghan on the pommel horse. I loved it."

The 19-year-old gymnast from Newtownards picked up the Rising Star award, having won both Commonwealth and European Championship gold.

Wheelchair basketball player James MacSorley was named Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability, while Ulster and Ireland rugby captain Rory Best received a special recognition award alongside Ireland's most capped hockey player, Eugene Magee.

Northern Ireland goalkeeping legend Pat Jennings praised the wealth of talent on show. "I live in England and just can't believe it when I come back and see the amount of talent here," he said.

"Outside of football, I watched Jonathan Rea. He's unbelievable - but he frightens the life out of me any time I watch him race."