Robbie Henshaw will be hoping to help Ireland take a giant step forward in their bid to retain the Six Nations rugby title this Sunday when they face England at the Aviva Stadium. And last night, Friday 20th February, the Coosan man was chosen as the overall winner in the Westmeath Independent Sports Awards (sponsored by the Shamrock Lodge Hotel) for the second year in a row.
On what was a night of sporting celebration, Robbie’s selection was met with great acclaim from the large gathering in the function room of the Shamrock Lodge Hotel. One of the highlights of the night was Robbie’s grandfather Billy Henshaw coming up on stage and sharing some of his memories of the future rugby star growing up. In his younger days, Billy learned Robbie how to play the accordion and he had predicted that it could be an All-Ireland champion if he spent as much time at it as he did on the rugby field! Definitely a case of music’s loss being rugby’s gain.
Meanwhile, kickboxing ace Martin Ward was the winner of the Readers’ Choice Award and was also the April winner. The Garrycastle man won this third national K1 title last year, and he looked forward to competing in the World K1 Championships in Spain later this year. Martin also spoke of how he relishes the challenge of competing in an individual sport where there is no hiding place. A member of the Defence Forces, Martin also runs the Na Fianna gym in Athlone (along with William Fitzmaurice).
January -Robbie Powell (Swimming)
January award winner, teenage swimming ace Robbie Powell spoke of how he uses Instagram messages for moments of inspiration in those early morning training sessions! He also talked about his hopes to compete in the European Youth Olympics.
February - Lauralee Walsh (Women’s Rugby)
February award winner, Ireland sevens international Lauralee Walsh spoke of how the profile of women’s rugby has risen in recent years due to the exploits of Ireland’s 15-a-side team. Asked if she had any ambitions of playing for the 15-a-side team, Lauralee said she was concentrating on the sevens and the team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics.
March - Athlone Hockey Club
Anna McGann and Anna McCullagh-both of whom were selected to represent Connacht last year accepted the March award of behalf of Athlone Hockey Club. They both recalled a hugely memorable year for the club and expressed their hopes for the coming season and their future involvement in the sport.
April - Martin Ward (Kickboxing)
May - Willow Park FC (Soccer)
The May award was accepted on behalf of Willow Park FC by Paul Kelly, the club’s vice-chairperson, and Jimmy Greene, the current senior team manager. Paul spoke of the incredible underage success the club enjoyed last season, in addition to the senior team winning the league title for the seventh year in a row. On a night when there was plenty of references to the rivalry between Willow Park and St Peter’s, Jimmy said if Willow are to retain their league title this season, it will be hard earned.
June - Declan Slevin (Wheelchair Basketball)
June award winner Declan Slevin spoke in inspiring fashion about the difference sport has made in his life since he was involved in a serious accident while at work. Declan was chosen for an All-Ireland Wheelchair Basketball All-Star Award last year, and he also excels in handcycling.
July - Cheyanne O’Neill (Boxing)
Young boxing ace Cheyanne O’Neill was accompanied on stage by her coach Rory Parkes, who spoke glowingly of Cheyanne’s dedication to training and her many achievements. Cheyanne spoke of her admiration for Katie Taylor and Cuban boxer ‘Rigo’ (Guillermo Rigondeaux) and said her ambition was to reach the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
August- Shane Shortall (Horse Racing)
August award winner Shane Shortall remembered the day last year when he famously won the Galway Plate, the highlight of his sporting career to date. Master of Ceremonies on the night, RTE broadcaster Robbie Irwin pressed Shane for tips ahead of Cheltenham and eventually some information emerged!
September - Damien Dolan (Gaelic Football)
Damien Dolan recalled the sense of relief when Caulry won the Westmeath Intermediate football title after being defeated in the previous two county finals. Being too young to have seen Caulry play in the Senior ranks, Damien said he was really looking forward to this year’s championship.
October - Dessie Dolan & Mark McCallon (Gaelic Football)
Mark McCallon and Dessie Dolan were joint winners for October. Mark spoke of his pride at leading out the Garrycastle team in the county final, alongside joint-captain Dessie, and of lifting the Flanagan Cup. Mark also looked ahead to the rest of Westmeath’s League campaign which resumes this Sunday away to Kildare. Dessie said the fact that his young son Nathan was there to see Garrycastle win last year’s title made it all the sweeter. Indeed, with his father Dessie Snr the manager, there were several family connections to this sporting success.
Dessie reflected on his decision to retire from inter-county football with Westmeath, and advised all young sportspeople present to appreciate the good days, as bad days are also part and parcel of sport. Eoghan Dalton accepted the December award on behalf of the Moate All Whites team and the victorious captain said it was “a bonus” for the team to add a Leinster Junior crown to their Westmeath title.
November - Robbie Henshaw (Rugby)
December -Moate All Whites Team (Gaelic Football)
Pictured is Eoghan Dalton (centre) accepting the award on behalf of the team
Hall of Fame winner and Roscommon soccer stalwart Vincent Brooks recalled some amusing episodes when playing Gaelic football in his younger days before he focused his sporting energies on soccer. The Taughmaconnell man reflected on how the Roscommon & District Football League has developed over the years and he paid tribute to the late John Sherlock.