DOUBLE world champion rower Sanita Puspure has been crowned The Irish Times Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year for 2019.
It was a case of an early birthday present for the Ballincollig-based athlete – she celebrates her 38th birthday on Saturday – when she accepted the award from Sonia O’Sullivan at the awards ceremony in Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel.
Not alone did Puspure claim her second world championship gold medal in the single sculls at Ottensheim in Austria in late summer, she also secured qualification for the Tokyo Olympics - and she did it the hard way.
Olympic qualification was actually secured in the semi-final when she came from behind with a powerful surge to win by more than four seconds over a field that included former world champion Emma Twigg of New Zealand.
In the final, Puspure, who is also a double European Champion, came from behind again to overtake Olympic silver medallist Vicky Thornley of Britain before chasing down Twigg in the last 500m to secure gold with a clear-water win.
Her victory was all the more impressive given that she had to return to her native Latvia during the summer to be with sister Inese in the final stages of her battle with cancer.
After the win she told RTÉ ; “this medal has very high value – we just needed something nice to happen……I hope my sister is proud of me, watching from above”.
Puspure, who moved to Ireland in 2006, now appears to have cracked the winning code. After experiencing years of frustration – she twice finished fourth at the world championships – her perseverance and determination were rewarded in Bulgaria at last year’s event with her first medal, a gold. For now, all roads lead to Tokyo.
This is the 16th year of the awards and the rower was among 14 monthly award winners – there were multiple winners on several occasions - nominated for the 2019 title. Other monthly winners included swimmer Mona McSharry, runner Ciara Mageean, boxer Katie Taylor, golfer Leona Maguire and jockey Rachael Blackmore
Meanwhile Kerry woman Mary Geaney, who captained her native county to All-Ireland football glory before going on to lead Cork’s camogie team to All-Ireland success, the first player to achieve such a feat, was presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Sport 2019 Award.
The Castleisland woman captained Kerry to football success in 1976 – she scored 3-2 in the final win over Offaly, the first hat trick in a lady’s final - before going on to win the first of three All-Ireland camogie medals with Cork.
Geaney, who scored a hat-trick in the 1978 final, captained the team in 1980 – the final against Limerick went to a replay - and won a third medal in 1983. She also won two club football All-Irelands with Castleisland Desmonds in the early eighties.
While her GAA exploits form a huge part of Mary Geaney’s sporting life, it is far from the full story. She also played hockey for Ireland, making her international debut as goalkeeper in 1971 against England. She went on to represent her country 65 times and was a member of the Ireland teams that won the 1977 Triple Crown and the 1983 Women’s Intercontinental Cup. She was inducted into the Irish Hockey Association Hall of Fame in 2010.
She also played squash, badminton and golf for Munster and managed her golf club, Killarney, to Irish Senior Cup success in 2017. Fittingly current hockey star and November Sportswoman of the month Roisin Upton was on hand to present Geaney with her award.
Paying tribute to all the award winners, the Deputy Editor of The Irish Times Deirdre Veldon said 2019 had brought the curtain down in style on a memorable decade for Irish sportswomen. She said their continued success enriched Irish life and played a hugely influential role in encouraging greater participation in sport.
“We are humbled in marking the achievements of our elite sportswomen here today. We salute their sporting prowess and skill of course, but also their dedication, their backbone and their bouncebackability. We pay tribute to their families and friends whose patience is undoubtedly endless and whose support is incalculable in their loved ones’ quest for success.”
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross described 2019 as a busy year for Irish sport, with our sportswomen doing us proud on the national and international stage.