Robert Heffernan crowned a fairytale season when he was named Athlete of the Year at the National Athletics Awards at the Crowne Plaza in Dublin yesterday.
Heffernan, who became only the third Irish competitor to win a world title when walking to 50km gold in Moscow in August, was elated and still taken aback at his achievement this summer.
“To be up here on stage with Ronnie Delany and Eamonn Coghlan, to be in that category now as a world champion is unreal,” said Heffernan upon receiving his award.
Naturally he also won Race Walker of the Year.
Heffernan envisioned his goal of becoming world champion as that of Rocky IV with Rocky Balboa going into the Iron Curtain and defeating Ivan Drago — the Russians being the powerhouse of race walking.
“I got into the stadium in Moscow and I couldn’t believe it was happening,” he admitted before going on to praise Fionnuala Britton who won Endurance Athlete of the Year for retaining her European cross country title.
“Watching Fionnuala win you’re filled with emotion,” gushed Heffernan on a day of celebration for Irish athletics. “Watching an Irish person coming in, your head is in bits,” concluded the unofficial master of the ceremonies.
Britton was very much looking at the defence of her title in December when she received her award.
“Every year when you go back to the European cross country, it’s like a new year,” said Britton. “Training is going well though. Looking at the pictures of last year’s race there is making me nervous.”
There was pretty much a full house of recipients in the Crowne Plaza but for the Indoor Athlete of the Year winner Ciarán Ó Lionaird who won bronze over 3,000m at the European Indoors.
“I’m delighted to win,” said the Cork man from his US base. “It serves as a reminder during this hard training block that once fully healthy I have what it takes to push on in Zurich,” Ó Lionaird, whose club Leevale also won the Performance Club of the year category, said.
“Also to be a part of club of the year is a tremendous honour, as I wouldn’t be anywhere near the athlete I am today if it wasn’t for a great environment at Leevale.”
Munster dominated much of the awards with Emerald AC’s Sarah Lavin receiving the junior athlete of the year with her coach Noelle Morrissey announced as the coach of the year.
Athlete of the Year: Robert Heffernan (Togher AC).
Race Walker of the Year: Robert Heffernan.
Track and Field Athlete of the Year: Mark English (UCD).
Indoor Athlete of the Year: Ciaran O’Lionaird (Leevale).
Endurance Athlete of the Year: Fionnuala Britton (Kilcoole AC).
Junior athlete of the Year: Sarah Lavin (Emerald AC).
Coach of the Year: Noelle Morrissey (Emerald AC).
Clubs of the Year: Leevale AC (Performance)/Lifford AC (Development).
Inspirational performance: Kelly Proper (Ferrybank).
Master of the Year: Geraldine Finnegan (Dunleer).
Lifetime achievement: Ronnie Long.
Official of the year: Brian Dowling (Naas AC).
Mountain runner of the year: Sarah McCormack (Clonliffe Harriers AC), Kate Cronin (Raheny Shamrock AC), Sarah Mulligan (Dundrum SouthDublin AC) and Sharon Trimble (North Belfast Harriers AC) as the team won the bronze medals at the World mountain running championships.
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