WORLD sculls champion Sanita Puspure got an early birthday present yesterday when she won the 2019 Sportswoman of the Year award.
The two-in-a-row world champion is the first rower to win the prestigious Irish Times/Sport Ireland award in its 16-year history, and it came just 24 hours ahead of her 38th birthday today.
“This is a really nice reward personally. There were so many good athletes in the running, and I am really mixing with the cream of Irish women’s sport here,” she said.
“Olive Loughnane drove me to these awards and I met Sonia O’Sullivan last week and she handed me a trophy today!
“It is also great for Irish rowing as we have been making a dent on the whole international scene in recent years. Hopefully we will have a few more girls joining us yet on the Olympic journey,” she added of Irish rowing’s prospect of adding a women’s four to the two female boats they have already qualified for Tokyo 2020.
“Training is lovely in the summer when it’s warm and the sun is shining, but this is the time of year when it’s cold, raining and windy,” she said, “but this is where we become a speed factory and work relentlessly every single day.”
Puspure held off particularly stiff competition in a stellar year of Irish women’s sport, especially from double-weight world professional boxing champion Katie Taylor (a four-time previous winner) and jump jockey Rachael Blackmore.
The dominance Puspure demonstrated in successfully defending her world title in a summer in which she tragically lost her sister Inese to cancer, demonstrated extraordinary durability and resilience.
Her world title also clinched her third Olympic qualification a good 10 months in advance, and makes her the hot favourite in her event next summer.
This year’s Outstanding Contribution to Sport went to Kerry woman Mary Geaney, a true sporting pioneer.
Not only was Geaney the first woman to captain All Ireland winning teams in football and camogie, but she also has 65 hockey caps for Ireland, won All-Ireland titles in badminton and, more recently, managed the Killarney women’s golf team to Irish Senior Cup glory.
The Castleisland woman captained Kerry to football success in 1976 (scoring 3-2, the first hat-trick in a women’s final).
She played club camogie in Éire Óg and went on to win three All-Ireland camogie medals with Cork in 1978 (in which she scored another hat-trick), 1980 and 1983, plus two All-Ireland club football medals with Castleisland Desmonds.
She debuted, in goals, for the Irish hockey team in 1971 and was a member of the teams that won the 1977 Triple Crown and the 1983 Women’s Intercontinental Cup.
Back in her heyday, Geaney thought nothing of travelling from Kerry to Belfast to train with Ireland, saying: “I was very lucky I was shopkeeping and I had great family at home and friends who filled in the gaps for me.”
She also played squash, badminton and golf for Munster. Limerick hockey hero Roisín Upton was, fittingly, on hand to present her with the award.
Puspure was selected overall winner from all of 2019’s monthly winners, including Cork soccer star Denise O’Sullivan, who is currently playing in Australia.