Her Sport Athlete Of The Year 2020: Meet The Contenders

Her Sport Athlete Of The Year 2020: Meet The Contenders
HerSport Editor
HerSport Editor

Ciara Mageean

Ciara Mageean’s year has been filled with record breaking speed and performance. In 2020, Mageean broke three National records and cemented her status as one of the finest middle-distance runners globally. Despite the postponement of the Olympics, Mageean proved to be in scintillating form smashing record after record, fulfilling her goal of etching her name on the Irish record list.

In January, the Portaferry runner set precedent for what was to be an outstanding season as she broke the Irish 1500m indoor record in Boston. The 27-year-old ran 4:06.42, bettering her own record, which was set last year in Athlone, by 0.34. A month later, the track star ran a new personal best in the 3000m indoors, which was just under five seconds off Mary Cullen’s 11-year-old record.

During lockdown, Mageean refused to let the disappointment take over and continued to train hard. The fruits of her dedication and hard work were there for all to see. Five months after her last competitive race, Mageean became the first Irish woman to dip under the two-minute mark in the 800m. The former UCD student ran 1:59.69 breaking Rose-Ann Galligan’s existing record of 2:00.58 set in 2013.


Remarkably, a month later, Ciara Mageean produced one of her finest performances to date, against a world-class 1000m field, which saw her claim a new Irish National record and third place at the Diamond League. In doing so, Mageean broke Sonia O’Sullivan’s 27-year old record.

Speaking about her newest records, Mageean told RTE, “It’s definitely part of my dreams in my career to hopefully put myself on that list of Irish records and get one that stands for a while, as long as Sonia’s have stood.”


Denise Gaule

Denise Gaule had a Senior Camogie All-Ireland Championship to remember as she inspired the Cats to the summit of camogie for the first time since 2016. Gaule was in inspirational form throughout and finished off with 3-37 from five Championship games including a decisive winner in the All-Ireland final.


Prior to 2020, Kilkenny had previously made the last six of the seven finals winning just the one. Gaule was at the forefront of Kilkenny’s bid to banish the ghosts of past seasons and exhibited incredible skill and leadership to secure the O’Duffy Cup.

In an almighty clash in the the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, Gaule was at the centre of Kilkenny’s extraordinary comeback which helped seal a place in the final.

In a repeat of last year’s final against Galway, Gaule scored the decisive goal to make Kilkenny 2020 All-Ireland champions. Brilliant at set-pieces throughout the whole campaign, Gaule struck a superb penalty into the bottom corner to seal proceedings – exhibiting incredible technique and nerves of steel.


Denise O'Sullivan

Denise O’Sullivan played a pivotal role in Ireland’s bid to qualify for their first ever major championship. The all-action box to box midfielder was once again Ireland’s stand out performer in the EURO 2021 campaign which saw Ireland narrowly miss out on qualification.

O’Sullivan was sensational in Ireland’s 1-0 victory over Greece in front of 4,511 spectators which left them in a great position to qualify. The North Carolina Courage midfielder bagged a goal in Ireland’s next fixture against Montenegro and once again stood out as a world-class talent in the centre of Ireland’s midfield.

The Republic of Ireland international also enjoyed a quality season for her club North Carolina Courage before moving to FA WSL side Brighton signed on loan. O’Sullivan had the highest pass accuracy for North Carolina Courage in the summer’s Challenge Cup.

Moving to Brighton, O’Sullivan has fitted in seamlessly to her new surroundings. With incredible work rate and top class technical ability, O’Sullivan helped Brighton to a stand out draw against champions Manchester City. The tenacious midfielder scored her first goal for the club against Birmingham City.

O’Sullivan has been a key player for the North Carolina Courage since her move to the United States. She has won the NWSL Championship in 2018 and retained it the following year. To add to that, the Knocknaheeny native was named the MVP in both seasons.


Katie Taylor

Katie Taylor, who is the undisputed lightweight world champion, enjoyed a successful 2020, continuing to demonstrate her exceptional skill and talent.

In August, she defeated Belgium’s Delfine Persoon for the second time as they fought in a rematch. While their first meeting in 2019 was controversial, Taylor was the clear champion and retained the top spot. 

In November, Katie Taylor fought Spain’s Miriam Gutierrez in her mandatory title defence of the four World lightweight belts. Gutierrez had not been beaten up until that point but Taylor dominated in a one-sided bout.

Katie Taylor has been named Female Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers’ Association of America for the second year in a row. Taylor continues to be a trailblazer in boxing, having headlined twice, something women’s boxing could have only dreamed of not so long ago.

“It’s amazing to see how far the sport has actually gone,” Taylor said, before headlining a show with three world title fights on the card. “The journey has been better than I expected, but I guess my focus has always been the same over the last four years. I’ve always wanted to make history, I’ve always wanted to leave a great legacy in the sport.”

Although 2020 was uncertain, there was no uncertainty that Katie Taylor is the top and remains the undisputed lightweight champion of the world. 


Laura Delany

Laura Delany captained the Typhoons to their first ever Women’s Super Series title. Under the captaincy of Delany, the Typhoons fought back from 4-2 down against the Scorchers in the series to claim the title on net run rate.

The current Ireland cricket captain scored 267 runs and took 8 wickets throughout the tournament, including an unbeaten 62 and 48 in the crucial final two games. Delany’s gritty knocks were vital to inspiring her team to overcome a 4-2 deficit in the series to make history for the Typhoons.

Earlier this year, Delany was one several cricketers who were given professional contracts by Cricket Ireland as the step towards a fully professional outfit grows closer.

The all-rounder made her debut at the age of 17 back in 2010 and has captained Ireland since 2016.

While it was a blank year for the National side in 2020, Delany has marked the 2021 World Cup in her sights with the qualifiers taking place in Sri Lanka next July.


Leah McCourt

Leah McCourt had a 2020 she will never forget. The MMA star etched her name into the history books as she became the first female to headline Bellator Europe. Not only was that a remarkable feat, the fighter did so on home soil in front of a packed 3 Arena.

The 28-year-old featherweight defeated Judith Ruis via unanimous decision in Dublin to take her MMA record to four wins and one loss.

McCourt is a rising star on the MMA scene. She is a former IMMAF World and European Amateur champion and International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation gold medallist.

The fighter who trains out of SBG Charlestown under Coach Owen Roddy, is pushing boundaries and paving the way for more Irish female MMA fighters to rise through the ranks.

McCourt is currently recovering from shoulder surgery after she tore her rotator cuff.

Speaking on Instagram after he surgery, she said; “”What’s one more setback on the path to achieving greatness. Adversity has only ever pushed me up ten levels. I know how hard the next few months will be but a big setback to me has always meant bigger comeback.”


Lindsay Peat

Lindsay Peat‘s envious list of sporting achievements continued to grow in 2020 as she helped Ireland secure a joint second place finish in this year’s 2020 Six Nations.

Ireland defeated Scotland, Wales and Italy in the Six Nations with Peat impressing on each occasion. The Irish prop brought physicality, heart and skill to the Irish game which saw the forward pack dominate and set up a platform for the Irish backs.

Undoubtedly one of the country’s most versatile female athletes, Peat became the tournament’s oldest scorer as she held off four Italian players to cross over for a try. The Irish prop was instrumental in Ireland’s Six Nations turn-around from last year and looks as hungry as ever to excel in her sport.

The 40-year old has represented Ireland in basketball and soccer as well as reaching three-all Ireland finals with Dublin, winning one. an All-Ireland football title with Dublin, Peat only took up rugby last year and made her debut in November.

After scoring her try against Italy, Peat said, “It’s another moment to add to the collection that when I retire, I can look back fondly on it. I was delighted to get the start and it’s even nicer to cap it with a try.”


Orla Walsh

Orla Walsh has blasted on to the scene in women’s cycling. While still relatively new to the sport, her hard work, dedication and raw talent has seen her thrive.

Ireland’s lack of velodrome has Walsh living away in Spain to access the facilities needed to compete at top level cycling. She hightailed it out of Spain just in time to make it back to Ireland before lockdown hit. Setting up one of the most enviable gyms at home and cycling in her locality, she continued to work hard and stay focused on building her strength and developing as an athlete.

The Track Cycling National Championships were lucky enough to go ahead in August at Ireland’s outdoor track, Sundrive Velodrome, and all of the training Walsh had undertaken paid off.

In the Women’s Sprint Orla Walsh was the red-hot favourite having set multiple national records during her training for this event. While the conditions on the day were not favourable for setting fast times, there were to be no surprises and she easily claimed the gold.

On the second day of the Championships, Orla Walsh set the tone early as she powered around the track to set a new Irish Record of 36.22 in the Women’s 500m TT, taking over a second off the previous mark. With a world class time on the board Orla Walsh was unbeatable.


Sanita Puspure

Sanita Puspure made the 2020 Indoor Championships her fifth win in a row, a fantastic feat. She won the Women’s Open 2000m race in a time of 6:34.5 beating her Irish record of 6:35.9 which she set at the Irish Indoor Championships last year.

The rowing regatta season hadn’t started by the time Covid-19 hit and for some time Sanita Puspure was off the water. While restricted to land training, Puspure still shone as she set a new half Marathon World Record on the rowing machine.

In the early stages of the first lockdown, she wasn’t allowed to train on the water at all, and then she could only train alone. She admitted, motivation was seeping out of her, the lack of competition making it difficult. With a slow start, 2020 kicked off for Puspure and her favourite colour remained to be gold!

In Poznan she defended her European title in what was anticipated to be the toughest yet. Puspure blew away the high-class field to retain her European Champion status. She won by over a boat length. Sanita Puspure has once again reminded everyone just how elite she is with a powerful and dominant performance in the Women’s Single Scull final in Poznan.

Double World Champion and now, Double European Champion.


Sarah Rowe

Some players are worth the ticket price alone and in 2020, Sarah Rowe once again proved she is a world-class athlete.

A gifted footballer, Rowe was named as the AFLW Irish Player Of The Year after her stellar season with her Aussie Rules side, Collingwood Magpies. The Mayo native helped Collingwood to their best ever season before the tournament was cut short due to Covid-19. Throughout the competition, Rowe scored five goals, influenced eighteen score involvements and amassed a fantastic 1324 metres which saw Collingwood win four and lose two.

Back at home, Rowe was hugely influential in her club side’s route to the Mayo Senior Shield final. Rowe alongside her Kilmoremoy LGFA teammates, narrowly lost out to Burrishoole in the final at Swinford by 2-11 to 3-7. With the score 1-08 to 0-01 at half-time, Rowe inspired a spirited comeback with a never say die attitude which saw her score a hatrick of goals to drag them back into the game.

In the All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship, Sarah Rowe was in unstoppable form as Mayo dished out a heavy beating to Tyrone. Rowe scored 2-9 for her side in an impressive display which once again highlighted her world-class athleticism and ability.

Rowe recently signed a new two-year contract with Collingwood Magpies in the AFLW and will compete in the upcoming 2021 season.





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