June 6th, 2024


Richard Bullick

A sizeable Orchard contingent will be in the frame for recognition when the annual Local Women Sport magazine awards are handed out this Saturday night at a black tie dinner in Belfast’s Europa Hotel.

The incomparable Caroline O’Hanlon has been shortlisted for the prestigious title of Most Inspirational Sportswoman while Crossmaglen legend Lauren McConville will be hoping to follow former Armagh skipper Kelly Mallon by being crowned LGFA Player of the Year.

Mallon’s Armagh Harps clubmate Emily Druse is in the running for the Breakthrough Award while McConville’s Crossmaglen colleague Aislinn McMahon is one of the Camogie Player of the Year contenders.

Clann Eireann are well represented with multi-talented teenagers Cassie Henderson and Evie McCafferty both shortlisted for Young Sportswoman of the Year along with Emma McDonald being up for the Unsung Heroine award.

Last but not least of the eight Armagh representatives nominated by your correspondent who have made the cut in their respective categories is ladies gaelic county chairperson Sinead Reel, a finalist in the Backroom category.

McConville lost out to Mallon for the LGFA gong at the inaugural Local Women Sport Awards last spring but has gone from strength to strength in the intervening 12 months, starting by being the top-scorer on either team in last April’s All Stars match in Texas.

She made the Team of NFL Division Two after Armagh won in Croke Park for the first time in more than a decade six days later and picked up Player of Match as the orangewomen overcame Mayo to top their All Ireland.

Centre half back McConville claimed her third consecutive Ulster All Star award, made the national All Stars shortlist for a third year running and this season reached the remarkable milestone of playing 100 Armagh matches without having been injured, dropped or rested!

The vice-captain’s Player of the Match performance in Croke Park as Armagh beat title holders Kerry in their first ever National League final earlier this month, and inclusion in the Team of Division One, came after the LWS Awards window closed.

McConville also shone as Crossmaglen camogs won last season’s Armagh Intermediate and Ulster Junior B titles, then scoring four goals in their fourth tier All Ireland semi before being on the losing side in the final.

Team-mate McMahon had won Player of the Match after contributing seven set-piece points as Cross defeated Derrynoose in their replayed domestic decider and was the only Rangers representative to make the Gaelic Life Ulster Club All Stars line-up.

The 22-year-old vice-captain subsequently picked up Crossmaglen’s Player of the Year award and now the final year trainee teacher has been shortlisted in the LWS Camogie Player of the Year category.

McMahon originally attended St Catherine’s College, where she was a year above the school’s future Head Girl Druse, whose shortlisting for this weekend’s LWS Awards is in recognition of establishing herself in the high-performing Orchard county team.

Having only made three brief cameo appearances for Armagh ahead of last season, Druse started 12 of the 14 matches in that Orchard campaign, coming off the bench in the other two including the NFL Division Two final victory over Laois.

The Armagh Harps starlet started the Ulster Senior Championship showpiece against Donegal on her 20th birthday, played every minute of Armagh’s All Ireland campaign and made the Ulster All Stars shortlist so it really was a breakthrough year for her.

Medical student Emily captained Queen’s in their recent O’Connor Cup campaign and has continued to excel for Armagh, starting seven of their eight games so far this season, including the historic victory over Kerry in this month’s National League final at Croke Park.

Druse starred in the St Catherine’s side which was crowned All Ireland Under 16 schools champions five years ago and two of the leading lights in the St Ronan’s College team that won the Under 16 B title last month have also been shortlisted for these LWS Awards.

Henderson, who had netted an incredible five times in last season’s semi aged just 13 and two in the corresponding game this spring, topped the charts for the Lurgan girls in the final with 1-4 while fellow goal-scorer McCafferty was St Ronan’s co-captain.

The 16-year-old McCafferty also skippers her school sides in basketball, leading them to a first Ulster B title, and netball, the sport in which she was co-captain of the Northern Ireland Under 17 team which won the Challenge section at last month’s European Championships.

Last August, Henderson added the European age group boxing title to the Ulster and Irish crowns which she had already won.  She captained the Armagh Under 14 gaelic footballers to the provincial final and won their Player of the Year award.

Henderson won three age group championship medals in Clann Eireann colours last season while McCafferty doubled up with the Under 16s and Minors as well as receiving an Armagh Junior Championship All Star on the back of helping her club’s seconds to the final.

Still just 14, current ABC Junior Sportswoman of the Year Henderson recently added another Irish boxing title to her already impressive career record while both she and McCafferty will be playing for Armagh in this Sunday’s Ulster U16 gold final against Tyrone.

Also flying the flag for the Clann Eireann club at the LWS Awards is McDonald, a genuinely unsung hero who contributes a lot to the sport of netball both as a coach at several levels and valuable volunteer in a variety of roles.

A great encourager of young players, McDonald steered Tannaghmore PS to their first NI Primary Schools success since 2001 last June, is also head coach of the Northern Ireland Under 15 regional academy and a key figure in Netball NI’s Events Working Group.

The Lurgan woman was shortlisted for School Coach of the Year at last autumn’s ABC Junior Sports Awards and the Children’s Coach of the Year category in Sport NI’s Sportmaker Awards.

As Armagh LGFA Chairperson, Reel may be much more visible but the Silverbridge clubwoman also does an enormous amount of work behind the scenes and undoubtedly deserves to have been shortlisted for the Backroom Award for a second year running.

In some ways the 12 months up until this Easter haven’t been an especially productive period in the context of O’Hanlon’s exceptional career but few would question her being shortlisted for the Most Inspirational Sportswoman category in any given year.

Her respective clubs, Carrickcruppen and Larkfield, have missed out on silverware in gaelic football and netball while injury-hit Leeds Rhinos struggled in their first British SuperLeague campaign since O’Hanlon joined them from Manchester Thunder.

However, O’Hanlon subsequently signed on for a second year at Headingley, was reappointed as NI netball captain after opting to continue an international career which began back in 2002 and committed to a 23rd season in Armagh gaelic’s orange jersey.

Despite doubling up on several weekends with SuperLeague and National League games on consecutive days, the evergreen 39-year-old shone as Armagh reeled off six consecutive victories on their return to Division One after a six-season absence.

Since the awards window for achievements closed, O’Hanlon, who also works part-time as a GP in Newry, has helped Armagh win the first National League title in their history and been honoured with a place in the Team of Division One ceremonial line-up.

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