Belfast Telegraph

Young guns have become big stars after picking up our Best accolade

By Steven Beacom

The George Best Breakthrough award is one of the most coveted prizes in Northern Ireland sport. It is presented at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards to an individual who has risen spectacularly over the past 12 months in their particular field.

And with Bestie's name attached to the trophy, local sporting heroes love winning it. No doubt the winner of this category at the 2016 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, to be held early next year, will be just as thrilled as those recognised in the past.

Ulster and Ireland rugby star Iain Henderson was honoured to accept the award at the ceremony for the 2015 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, especially given that the iconic Willie John McBride handed it over.

Hearing Lions legend McBride speaking about the qualities of Henderson on stage was both entertaining and educational. Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss, who joined the duo for the presentation, certainly enjoyed it.

For his part, Henderson said: "It is a great honour to win the George Best Breakthrough award. George Best was one of Northern Ireland's sporting greats so to be presented with this award is very special."

Henderson was the first rugby player and the latest in an impressive line of special sporting talents to win the Bestie prize.

Since the award was first handed out two months after George's death in 2005, Northern Ireland footballers have dominated.

Steven Davis was the first recipient. He hasn't done too badly since, going on to have a fantastic career as a respected Premier League midfielder and an inspirational captain for his country, leading the national team in the Euro 2016 finals.

Jonny Evans, Niall McGinn, Craig Cathcart and Conor McLaughlin were also in France for the tournament - they have been winners of the George Best Breakthrough award.

At the time, an overjoyed McLaughlin said: "To be on the list with so many fantastic players is incredible and to win a George Best award is amazing because he was Northern Ireland's greatest footballer ever."

Among the other sports stars to be recognised at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards for making a significant breakthrough are golfer Rory McIlroy, boxer Michael Conlan, cyclist Martyn Irvine and rower Peter Chambers, all of whom have hit the heights in their respective sports.

This award is chosen by Belfast Telegraph Sports staff in conjunction with the Sports Awards judging panel but that doesn't mean we don't need your help.

We want your nominations and thoughts as to which sportsperson has made a big breakthrough in 2016. Information on how to nominate is shown below.

Belfast Telegraph Group Sports Editor Jim Gracey said: "George Best will forever be a hero to the people of Northern Ireland. It is always great to see who wins the prize named after him at our Awards.

"Not only is it a great honour for the person who wins it but it gives the rest of us an insight into who will go on and do great things in their career."

To nominate a candidate for the George Best Breakthrough award please email or write to Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, c/o Jcomms, Sylvan House, 232-240 Belmont Road, Belfast, BT4 2AW. Please include your reasons why you believe they should win the award. Nominations close on December 9.