Leona Maguire would seem to have a fight on her hands if she is to win the prestigious RTÉ Sportsperson of the Year award for 2021.
Maguire is among six women dominating the eight who have been short-listed in being honoured with the award. The five other women include Rachael Blackmore, Kellie Harrington, Ellen Keane, Katie Taylor and Vikki Wall while the men nominated are Cian Lynch and Jason Smyth.
Maguire made her Solheim Cup debut in September brilliantly helping steer Europe to only a second victory on US soil since the inaugural Cup encounter in 1990. The County Cavan golfer had competed two months earlier at the Tokyo Olympics, though in her first showing for Europe in suburban Toledo she brilliantly earned 4.5 points out of five, a record for a rookie at the event.
Since the inaugural RTE award in 1985, there have been nine years when a golfer has been honoured, the last being Shane Lowry in 2019 in winning the 148th Open Championship though on those nine occasions it has been all male golfers, so if Maguire wins it will be a first recognition for a Irish-born female golfer.
However, in a year featuring the Olympic Games it is going to be hard for the judges to go past an Olympic Gold medal winner and in the rescheduled 2021 Olympics, this small island nation produced three gold medal achievements.
Dublin boxer Harrington proudly stood on the top level of the dais in winning gold in the lightweight category while at her fourth Paralympic Games, swimmer Keane won her first gold medal, delivering a superb performance in the SB8 100m breaststroke final.
And Smyth had a gold medal placed around his neck for a remarkable sixth time at the Paralympics following his win in the T13 100m final.
Blackmore stamped her credentials for the ‘Sportsperson of the Year’ honour starting in April when the Tipperary jockey became the first woman to win the Aintree Grand National, riding Minella Times to success, while at Cheltenham she became the first female winner of the Top Jockey award.
Lynch claimed a third successive Munster Championship title as well as being named man of the match for his Munster final performance against Tipperary. He was again named man of the match after claiming a third All-Ireland winners’ medal in four seasons following the All-Ireland final defeat of Cork.
Bray fighter Taylor, who was voted 2020 Sportsperson of the Year award, successfully defended her titles twice this year. The undisputed lightweight world champion beat Natasha Jones in Manchester in May, and comfortably saw off Jennifer Han in Leeds in September, and takes on Firuza Sharipova in Liverpool on Saturday
And while Irish sports stars were winning on the world stage, 23-year-old Meath footballer Wall made it to the last eight of voting on the back of Meath’s brilliant All-Ireland win over Dublin. The Dunboyne player was voted ‘Player of the Match’ in the final and also named The Irish Times ‘Sportswoman of the Month’ (September), after Meath produced a stunning performance to win the county’s first ever senior All-Ireland title.
The awards will be presented on RTE on Saturday December 18.