The 2011 Westmeath Examiner Sports Star of the Year winner,Gerry Duffy,. Receives his award from Frank Mulrennan, Chief Executive Officer, Celtic Media Group
Mullingar Olympic boxer John Joe Nevin is the Westmeath Examiner Sports Star of the Year for the second time.
The London 2012 silver medallist picked up the top gong, at February 1's Sports Stars of the Year Gala Awards Night, held in association with and at the Mullingar Park Hotel.
It's the latest in a long line of plaudits which the Mullingar southpaw will carry with him to the National Championships next week, as he starts off on the road to Rio.
"I'm still only a pup,” he told host for the night, RTÉ's Robbie Irwin, eliciting a few giggles from the 250-strong audience – though betraying the very serious backdrop to his decision not to turn professional: the search for Olympic gold.
Nevin's receipt of the evening's chief prize was the climax of a tremendous evening, in which fourteen monthly award winners picked up crystal trophies, sponsored by BB Awards (formerly Mullingar Crystal).
Mullingar Rugby Club's U17s were named Young Sports Stars of the Year for 2012, while the Hall of Fame award went to Westmeath Community Games stalwart Johnny Crowley.
Meanwhile, All-Ireland Féile camogie skills winner Aoife Corcoran (Castletown-Geoghegan) was a tremendously popular Readers' Choice Award winner.
A spectacular four-course meal, followed the by the awards ceremony itself, was followed by entertainment from Louth-based band Deco Five, but it was the array of glamour and youthful talent on show which made it such a success.
Frank Mulrennan, Chief Executive Officer of Celtic Media Group, kicked off proceedings with an introduction for Robbie Irwin – the producer of RTÉ's Saturday Sport – and the capable compére got to work.
Poignantly, he paid tribute to his predecessor on the Park Hotel stage, Westmeath's own Colm Murray, who was struck down by illness a couple of years ago. "I know that I would certainly not be here if Colm were able,” Robbie said of the Moate man, whose own time as Sports Stars host blessed audiences with the wittiest of repartee.
Robbie, for the third year in a row, held court admirably himself, as he quizzed the monthly award winners – which included three Olympians (Nevin, Joseph Murphy and Paralympian Damien Shaw), a number of hurlers (Brendan Murtagh, Eoin Price, Niall O'Brien, and Ciaran and Killian Doyle), soccer and rugby teams (Mullingar Athletic ladies and Mullingar Rugby Club's U17s), a handballer (Robbie McCarthy), two boxers (Hughie Myers and, of course, Nevin), a middle-distance runner (Linda Conroy), and ladies football/camogie stars (Karen Hegarty and Aoife Corcoran).
John Joe was the popular winner of the coveted main award – even before it was announced, as he went to pick up his August award, he received a standing ovation and loud applause.
The 2009 winner joins Martin Fagan, Brendan Murtagh, Paul Greville and Gerry Duffy among the élite winners, while Mullingar's U17 rugby stars follow the likes of John Heslin, John Joe Nevin and the St Joseph's, Rochfortbridge U14 soccer team (2011) as Young Sport Stars alumni.
Hall of Fame
For almost 42 years, out of the manifold volunteers who have made the Community Games such a titanic force in Westmeath's sporting life, one man certainly – as Sports Stars host, Robbie Irwin put it – deserves the title 'Mr Community Games'.
Such is the depth of his modesty, and such is the respect he has for the people has worked with as a volunteer over the years, that Johnny Crowley would shy away from that title.
But on Friday February 1, it was a privilege for the Westmeath Examiner to etch Johnny's name onto that honour roll of Westmeath sporting greatness, as he joined a number of other names in our Sports Stars Hall of Fame.
The Hillside Drive resident and Mullingar native joins Paddy Flanagan, Mick Carley, Albert Lee, the late Christy Whelehan and Bobbie Begley in that exclusive club.
When Bobbie was chosen for last year's award, this writer recalled his own experiences as a child, calling into his shop at the front of Oliver Plunkett Street's Mall to buy a tennis racket, runners or football boots. Others know Bobbie as a hurling trainer, an astute manager in several sports, or a Mullingar athletics pioneer.
Likewise, everyone remembers going through the Community Games at some point – probably all our monthly award winners, as well as myself – and we all remember Johnny Crowley at the thick of it, going that extra mile to lead an organisation which survives only on the dedication and strength of its volunteers.
It is that volunteer spirit which was brought to light on Friday, and one felt an enormous well of respect for Johnny in the Park Hotel's ballroom – respect which he was keen to share with his family, and with the loyal cadre of Community Games activists who have worked with him over the years.
For your service to Westmeath and indeed Leinster Johnny, we salute you.
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In January, Westmeath started their hurling year with a memorable 2-13 to 0-12 win over Offaly in the Walsh Cup; they later ran Kilkenny very close in the semi-final.
At the heart of this very positive cup campaign was Clonkill's Brendan Murtagh, who wins our January award for his performance against the Faithful County, notching up 2-6, and later another 1-10 against the Cats in the semi-finals.
Murtagh, a former Sports Star of the Year award winner, was later at the heart of Clonkill's senior hurling championship retention in October.
Ciaran and Killian Doyle
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The recipients of the February award are the twin Raharney hurling stars, Ciaran and Killian Doyle, who played a key role in leading St Joseph's Secondary School, Rochfortbridge to glory in the full Leinster Colleges' senior hurling 'B' final. The school went on to contest the All-Ireland final, losing out to St Mary's of Belfast.
The lads also played minor hurling for Westmeath last year, and were members of the Lake County's All-Ireland U16 'B' winning team in August.
Mullingar Athletic ladies
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The March award goes to Mullingar Athletic's ladies team, who clinched the CCFL Women's Division in that month - the highlight of an incredible season for the Mullingar girls.
Athletic - captained by Leona Archibald - sealed their league win in early Match with a 3-0 win over Riverside FC, and they Dominick McLoughlin's charges look poised to retain their title in 2012/13.
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The April award goes to Mullingar Shamrocks and Westmeath ladies football star Karen Hegarty, in recognition of her outstanding contribution to Westmeath's successful Bord Gais Energy Ladies NFL Division 3 campaign.
Hegarty finished up top scorer in the league, netting a flurry of crucial goals along the way.
She is also a member of the Mullingar Athletic ladies soccer panel, who won the March award.
Mullingar RFC U17s
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The May award goes to Mullingar Rugby Club's U17s, who clinched a first Culliton Leinster Cup win for the club since 1996, with a 20-15 win over rivals Navan.
Captain, Anthony McGivney led the way as Mullingar stole the show on Leinster Youths Finals Day in Donnybrook on May 7 in what was one of the most memorable years in the history of the club's youths section.
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Our June winner is Westmeath and Castletown-Geoghegan hurler Niall O'Brien, who had a magnificent run of form during the early summer. He played a key role in Westmeath's Leinster SHC win over Antrim on May 20, before turning out a stellar performance against Galway in the Leinster quarter-final.
Although Westmeath lost that encounter, O'Brien scored 2-7 and made the GAA's Hurling Team of the Week. A week later, he shot 1-9 for Castletown against Lough Lene Gaels in the first round of the club championship in Westmeath.
(joint winner) - Joseph Murphy
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Our joint July winner is the first of our two Olympians, Joseph Murphy. At the London Olympics on July 31, Ballymore native Joseph Murphy did his county and country proud, finishing a highly respectable 14th out of 74 in a hugely competitive individual eventing final at London's Greenwich Village, contributing to a team performance which saw Ireland finish fifth.
He was centre stage with boxer John Joe Nevin, when the two returned to Mullingar for a magnificent Olympic homecoming in mid-August.
(joint winner) - Aoife Corcoran
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Another July winner is one of the county's brightest young camogie prospects, Castletown-Geoghegan's Aoife Corcoran.
Aoife brought a major underage national title back to Westmeath in that month, when she captured the All-Ireland Feile Camogie Skills title, scoring 161 points in the pouring rain at Dublin's Parnell Park, fending off opposition from no less than Tipperary.
She was also a member of the Westmeath U16 panel which clinched an All-Ireland camogie 'C' title last August.
John Joe Nevin
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For the month of August there could only be one possible winner – Mullingar's John Joe Nevin, who captured the nation's imagination by boxing his way to an Olympic final, and bringing a silver medal back to an unprecedented homecoming crowd in his native town.
The Cavan Boxing Club pugilist and former Sports Star of the Year award winner "shuffled" his way past some of the best opponents amateur bantamweight boxing has to offer, and as thousands watched in the streets of Mullingar, he came away with a prize which gives him pride of place in the Irish Olympic history books.
(joint winner) - Damien Shaw
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Mullingar 'A' grade cyclist Damien Shaw, sighted pilot for visually impaired cyclist James Brown, was the focus of national attention on September 5, when the duo claimed a bronze medal in the Men's time trial B road cycling event at the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games in London.
He was part of a hugely successful Irish team which also included Ballinahown's double gold medallist, Mark Rohan.
Damien is one of the country's most talented cyclists, a member of Mullingar club Lakeside Wheelers, and a past Sports Star of the Month award winner.
(joint winner) - Robbie McCarthy
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Although later beaten at the World Handball Championships in Dublin in October, September was a tremendous month for Westmeath handball star Robbie, who consolidated his status as the best handballer on the national stage, by retaining his All-Ireland 60x30 senior softball title on September 2.
The Mullingar man defeated Dublin's Eoin Kennedy in the final at Abbeylara on September 2 – 12 months after winning his maiden title – stopping Kennedy from winning his ninth.
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Clonkill star Price may only be 25, but he's been a fixture on Westmeath's senior hurling panel since he was a teenager, and recently, he was awarded the Lake County captaincy.
That honour and this award are just rewards for his performances in October, when he skippered Clonkill to successfully defend their senior hurling championship title – the first such achievement for the club since 1941.
Later in the month, he captained Ireland to victory against Scotland in the compromise hurling/shinty internationals, as one of four Westmeath men on the Irish senior panel.
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In November, young Mullingar Harriers athlete and Kilbeggan girl Linda Conroy put in a terrific performance in the U18 4,000m at the AAI Inter-County Cross Country finals at Tattersalls, Ratoath.
Coming second, the Mercy Secondary School, Kilbeggan student qualified for the Irish team which travelled to the European Cross Country Championships at Szentendre, Hungary on December 9.
Her appearance in the green singlet put the cherry on top of a fantastic year for Linda, and in January 2013, her exploits in cross country and the Leinster Outdoors (June) earned her a Leinster Star Award.
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Mullingar boxer Myers, a cousin of August winner and Olympic silver medallist John Joe Nevin, received the December award in recognition of his silver medal winning exploits at the inaugural European U23 Boxing Championships in Kaliningrad, Russia.
The lightweight, who boxes out of Kildare's Royston BC, narrowly missed out on gold in the final against Armenia's Kariun Sogomonyan, in an 11-10 points defeat. In November, he was named the IABA's Intermediate Boxer of the Year.