Sports Awards: Michael O'Neill is in a tough fight to hold onto Coach of the Year title
There's the possibility of a back-to-back winner at this year's Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards as Michael O'Neill looks to retain his Manager/Coach of the Year title.
The Northern Ireland manager led his side in another excellent qualifying campaign, this time nearly taking them to the World Cup finals in Russia but ultimately falling just short.
O’Neill leads the way in the platinum section of the Manager/Coach of the Year award, with the accolade split into two categories for professional and non-professional coaches.
The Portadown-born manager is by no means guaranteed the win, however, as he will face stern opposition from several others for his crown.
Mickey Harte, Tyrone’s senior football coach, is also in the running after leading the Red Hands to their 15th Ulster title, successfully defending their 2016 trophy, as well as their sixth consecutive Dr McKenna Cup triumph.
Linfield boss David Healy also has a strong case after inspiring the Blues to a treble-winning season of the Danske Bank Premiership, Irish Cup and County Antrim Shield titles.
And Mike Todd will also fancy his chances after a big year organising Down Royal Racecourse, leading to it being named Irish Racecourse of the Year.
As with all of the other awards to be given out on the big night on January 29, the gold section is just as competitive.
Another Gaelic games coach is in the running for this award in the form of Slaughtneil’s Mickey Moran, who led his footballers to a second successive Ulster Club title, part of the club’s famous ‘double-treble’.
Ireland Under-19 cricket coach Ryan Eagleson is also up for consideration after the young stars secured qualification for the Under-19 World Cup with a thrilling win over Scotland.
Elaine Rice, head coach of the Northern Ireland netball team, will also be hoping for success on the night after glory days over the last year that saw her girls qualify for the Commonwealth Games, win silver at the European Championships and reach eighth in the world rankings.
And Banbridge men’s hockey coach Mark Tumilty has also had a great year, leading his players to the last-16 in Europe as well as taking them to an impressive EY Hockey League and Irish Senior Cup double.
Dungannon-based financial advisory firm Investnshare are the sponsors behind the award, and are growing in stature every year.
Robert Young, an Independent Financial Advisor at the company, said: “Investnshare are extremely proud to sponsor the Manager/Coach of the Year Award at this year’s prestigious Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.
“Behind every great team or athlete is their coach and mentor. This category recognises the hard work, preparation and dedication behind the scenes.
“We are therefore very excited to sponsor this year’s Manager/Coach of the Year Award as we appreciate the planning, encouragement and leadership that enables all of our sporting heroes to achieve their full potential.”