Gaelic Games remains narrowly the nation’s favourite sport, Katie Taylor is by far the most admired athlete, and the Irish rugby team have been dethroned as Team of the Year.
The findings are according to the annual Teneo Sport and Sponsorship Index, a representative survey of 1,000 people, which is now in its 10th year. The research was carried out between November 19 and 29.
Soccer had held the crown as Ireland’s favourite sport for the first eight of those years, but having been pipped by Gaelic games last year, it remains a narrow second, with 18% compared to Gaelic games’ 19%. Rugby, which had been tied second until 2016, is third on 13%.
Katie Taylor’s estimation among the Irish public reached new heights in 2019, with a quarter of respondents counting Taylor as their most admired athlete. It’s Taylor’s third year in a row to top the poll, and fifth in seven years, with Conor McGregor (2016) and Paul O’Connell (2015) the only two to put her into second in that time.
McGregor’s popularity has nose-dived, from 16% to 2%, as he has racked more appearances in court than in the octagon since he won his last UFC title in 2016.
Shane Lowry (10%) was second to Taylor, but edged her out for top spot in the nation’s most memorable sporting moment, his Open Championship victory on Irish soil getting 30% of the vote, 1% more than Taylor becoming two-weight world champion. However, Taylor’s victory was considered the greater sporting achievement, with 21% ranking it above Lowry’s (14%).
Third and fourth on the list of greatest achievements were the Dublin footballers’ five-in-a-row (11%) and the Ireland women’s hockey team’s Olympic qualification (10%).
Those two shared Team of the Year title for 2019, with both receiving a quarter of the vote. The gender split in the votes were almost mirror images, with Dublin attracting 32% of male votes and 17% of female, while 33% of women voted for Ireland’s hockey stars against 18% of men.
After years of rugby dominance, a GAA side climbs back to the head of the Team of the Year category for the first time in six years, where they share top spot,” said Teneo Ireland director Rob Pearson.
“GAA sides typically struggle in nationally representative bodies of research, but Dublin’s footballers’ history-making five-in-a-row was recognised across the country as they were voted Team of the Year alongside Ireland’s women’s hockey team, who also made history by qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
This isn’t the first time that a GAA team or a women’s team has topped the poll. In fact, in 2013, Clare’s All-Ireland winning hurlers and Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning women’s rugby team also shared the accolade.
Ireland’s U20 grand slam winners were next on 16%, with the Irish rowing team and Tipperary hurlers rounding out the top-five.
The Ireland rugby team had won that award for the last five years running, but individual stars remain high in the ranks of the most admired, with Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, and Rory Best all polling at least 5%.
Rowers Gary and Paul O’Donovan also received 5% of the vote in the year in which their partnership in the men’s lightweight double was split, as Gary lost his seat to Fintan McCarthy who won world gold with Paul.
Other memorable moments among the public this year were Róisín Upton’s penalty to send Ireland’s hockey stars to the Olympics (9%), the Wexford hurlers celebrating their Leinster title (6%), and Séamus Callanan’s goal as Tipperary beat Kilkenny to the All-Ireland (5%).
Looking ahead, Tokyo 2020 ranks high on the public consciousness, with 22% counting it as the event they’re most looking forward to next year. With Ireland’s qualification hanging in the balance, 17% are most looking forward to Euro 2020, with four games to be held in Dublin.
The set pieces of the annual sporting calendar are also highly anticipated, between the Six Nations (14%), the All-Ireland hurling (12%) and football championships (9%), and the Cheltenham Festival (6%), which ranks alongside the Ryder Cup.
When combined, 24% are most looking forward to the All-Ireland Championships, across men’s and ladies’ football, hurling, and camogie.