Paul O’Connell was lifting trophies again last night as the Ireland captain was voted the Hibernia College IRUPA Players’ Player of the Year 2015 by his fellow professionals.
O’Connell also took home the Newstalk Supporters’ Player of the Year 2015 award from the 13th annual awards ceremony, staged by the Irish Rugby Union Players Association as players and fans united in their acknowledgement of a campaign which saw the Munster legend win his 100th Test cap against Wales in March then a week later lift the RBS 6 Nations trophy for the second season in a row.
O’Connell was then named RBS 6 Nations Player of the Championship but it was last night’s Payers’ Player award that could well have meant most to the 35-year-old second row, particularly with his retirement pending, potentially as early as the end of the World Cup this October 31.
“Supporting these awards and IRUPA is important,” O’Connell said last night. “I’m coming to retirement age and IRUPA play a massive role in preparing players for that. Not everyone gets to have a kind of Brian O’Driscoll retirement. Some guys get injured and various things happen and IRUPA play a massive role in preparing us for life after rugby.
“So it’s a big night on the calendar for the players for the awards but also for IRUPA.”
O’Connell joins Gordon D’Arcy, definitely set to retire after the World Cup, and Tommy Bowe as the only players to have won the prestigious award twice, having first collected the honour in 2006.
“It is really great to win this award, it’s hard to believe it is nine years ago that I last won it,” O’Connell said.
“It’s been a fantastic season for Ireland and winning my 100th cap during the Six Nations was really special, so this tops it off nicely.”
As O’Connell won his 100th cap in Cardiff, Robbie Henshaw was earning just his ninth but his impact for both Connacht and Ireland this season saw the centre named the Nevin Spence Young Player for a third year in succession.
The Young Player honour was one of three for which the 21-year-old was nominated. O’Connell beat Henshaw, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton to the Players’ Player of the Year award but the Connacht star, named earlier this week in the Guinness Pro12 Dream Team for this season, came out on top for the VW Try of the Year.
Henshaw’s winning score was his decisive try against England in the Six Nations win at the Aviva Stadium as he skilfully caught and then grounded a Conor Murray chip kick. The try was part of a memorable campaign for Ireland which saw head coach Joe Schmidt and back row Sean O’Brien last night collect the Powerscourt Hotel Resort & Spa Rugby Moment of the Year, an award voted for by members of the public via Twitter.
Two of O’Connell’s former Munster and Ireland packmates were also among the awards during the ceremony in Dublin with David Wallace inducted into the BNY Mellon IRUPA Hall of Fame and fellow back-rower Alan Quinlan honoured for the Zurich Contribution to Irish Society, in recognition of “the significant impact made to society through his work raising the profile of mental health and depression in Ireland”.
Leinster’s Darragh Fanning collected the 3 Unsung Hero Award having won a public vote on 3 Mobile’s Twitter account ahead of Munster’s Denis Hurley and Ulster’s Callum Black, while on-field effort combined with off-field commitment to the game was recognised with the Hibernia College Medal for Excellence, which was presented to Connacht veteran Michael Swift.
On a day when the women’s game in Ireland had plenty to celebrate with the decision by World Rugby to award the staging of the 2017 World Cup to the IRFU, Lucy Mulhall won the vote of her peers to be named BNY Mellon Women’s Sevens Player of the Year 2015.
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