The Irish international topped a public vote to scoop the Sportsperson of the Year award, the first footballer to do so since 2001, when Mick McCarthy took the prize as Ireland manager. He also joins Roy Keane (1999) and Packie Bonner (1990) on the roll of honour.
The popular Derryman had much to celebrate and plenty of people to celebrate with as he was joined by his family for his daughter Allie-Mae’s fourth birthday on the same day.
“It means a lot (to have) the Irish public voting for me. It’s an award which covers not just football but all sports, so for them to vote for me is something special, something I’m immensely proud of,” said McClean, speaking from his home in Birmingham.
“The house is full. There’s people sleeping on the floor and whatnot. We’ve got the two families over and friends as well, so it’s been carnage! It’s a nice way to celebrate two events, my daughter’s birthday and this special award.”
McClean scored the winning goal in Wales to put Ireland into the World Cup play-offs, which they ultimately lost 5-1 to Denmark. However, another honour stands above that for McClean.
“Captaining my country, for me, I don’t think there’s ever going to be an honour that tops that. To be the first Derryman, too, to ever wear the armband on my 50th cap (against Mexico) is something I’ll take to the grave with me.”
The other public vote was for Team of the Year, which was taken by a surprise winner, the Ireland showjumping team.
The European champions, Bertram Allen, Denis Lynch, Cian O’Connor, and Shane Sweetnam, beat off competition from GAA, soccer, and rowing teams.
Their campaign included the rallying call “Do you think RTÉ gives Equestrian Sport the coverage it deserves?”
“It’s a big surprise,” said O’Connor, who flew in and out of Dublin in between competing at the Olympia Horse Show in London. “I’m delighted and honoured to accept it on behalf of the lads. It’s incredible because a lot of the lads are based away and when they come home to Ireland, we know we have a lot of support here. We have the World Championships next year, which is our Olympic qualifier for Tokyo, so this is certainly a great boost and we’re thrilled to have it.”
More success for horse sports came as Aidan O’Brien won Manager of the Year, as selected by the RTÉ Sports department, after a year in which he won a world record 28 Group 1 races.
The Tipperary-based trainer beat a field of candidates which included recently crowned Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year Jessica Harrington.
“It’s a big privilege to be the small part of the team that we are from Coolmore and Ballydoyle,” said O’Brien, after being presented with the award by his son Joseph.
Mona McSharry won the inaugural Young Sportsperson of the Year award, beating sprinter Gina Akpe-Moses and Kerry footballer David Clifford. The 17-year-old Sligo swimmer broke the Irish senior record as she won 100m breaststroke gold at the World Junior Swimming Championships in August.
Ken Doherty was inducted into the Hall of Fame on the 20th anniversary of his world snooker title. The Darlin’ of Dublin joins fellow snooker star Dennis Taylor in receiving the honour, which he dedicated to his mother Rose, who died earlier this year.
“We lost her on Mother’s Day this year so I think I’ll dedicate this to her. This is for you, mam,” said Doherty.
Meanwhile, speaking at the awards, 18-time All-Ireland winner and Cork camogie captain Rena Buckley said she’ll make up her mind on whether to continue in the new year.
“I’ve been around a number of years at this stage so I’m just going to think about it over Christmas and we’ll make a decision then in January,” she said.
RTÉ awards: The Twitter reaction
I’d love if I was wrong .... but the dubs were team of the year. Jim Gavin was manager of the year and Con o Callaghan???? They have been snubbed..no doubt about it. 3 in a row is some achievement not done since 80s!!!
James McClean is a man I admire greatly but to me Con O Callaghan is by far the outstanding Irish sportsman of 2017. His achievements will never be matched.
How has @ryanburnett01 not won this!! Come on @rte
What was I thinking... 18 senior All-Irelands were never going to cut it #rtesportawards #rtesport
Can’t help but thinking that @DubGAAOfficial Jim Gavin & Con O’Callaghan must feel hard done by as all of the end of year goodies were handed out. How many awards would Mayo have won if they had managed to complete the one-in-a-row? #rtesportawards #Dublin
Not sure it’s dawned on most people what we might be witnessing with Con O’Callaghan. We haven’t seen this kind of success/impact from a 21yo dual GAA player since JBM. Worth a nomination last night, at least. #RTÉSportAwards