23 Apr 14
Ireland's Rugby Union Players Association (IRUPA) yesterday announced their 2014 award nominations with four Munster players in contention for honours.
Tommy O'Donnell was named Munster Player of the Year, fighting off competition from fellow nominees David Kilcoyne and Simon Zebo.
O'Donnell from Clanwilliam, Co. Tipperary is a product of the Munster Rugby Academy and a former Ireland Youths/U19/U20s player. He has played 66 times for Munster since his debut in September 2007, and has scored 4 tries this season in 21 appearances for the province. Despite sustaining two injuries during the course of the year the powerful back-row cemented a regular starting position, fighting off stiff competition to impress in every outing. His teammates have paid tribute to his rousing pre-match words before the Heineken Cup quarter final and credited him with helping to inspire the team. A stand-out performer nominated by his colleagues he was a firm favourite with the voting public, and the soon to be 26 year old now joins previous winners, Ryan, Coughlan, O'Driscoll, Wallace, O'Gara and Hayes in receiving the accolade.
The Young Player of the Year was awarded to Cork's Simon Zebo. Despite missing out on the Player of the Year award, the 23 year old charismatic winger was a sure-in for the Young Player award after the season he put down. He marked his first appearance in an Ireland senior jersey with a try against the Barbarians in May 2012, and played in the opening test against New Zealand in the summer tour, going on to feature in the November Internationals and his first 6 Nations campaign where he became a household name thanks to a famous flick kick in Ireland's win against Wales. His campaign was cut short with an injury against England but he recovered in time to be part of Munster's Heineken Cup quarter final against Harlequins. In 15 Munster appearances this season he has scored 6 tries, including a famous hat trick against Racing Metro in the Heineken Cup in January.
Academy prop James Cronin was the worthy recipient of the John McCarthy Award for Academy Player of the Year. The second year graduate joins his fellow nominees Cian Bohane and Ronan O'Mahony in moving to a Development Contract for season 2013/14. Cronin is a product of the Munster Youths, starting his rugby career with Ballincollig RFC before moving to Highfield RFC and then on to Division 1A side Dolphin RFC. He played his first game for the Munster A's against Connacht Eagles in a pre-season game in August '12 and then went on to make his B&I Cup debut against Rotherham Titans in December, starting in every Munster A game since. His consistent impressive performances earned him his first senior cap in the RaboDirect PRO12 game against Leinster in Thomond Park in April and he was one of three additional players added to Munster's Heineken Cup squad in March.
Women's Player of the Year - Niamh Briggs. This is the Waterford native's second time winning this award and how worth she is, fresh from her success as part of the Irish Women's Grand Slam winning team. The fullback was the top overall points scorer in this year's competition, with a personal haul of 43 points (3 tries, 5 conversions and 6 penalties). Beginning her rugby in Dungarvan, and then moving onto Clonmel, the 28 year old plays her rugby with UL Bohemians in Limerick, where she is based as a Garda. Niamh has been a key member of the Munster women's team for a number of years, and helped Munster reclaim the interprovincial title this season. She looks set to play a part in the Irish Women's Sevens team this weekend at the Twickenham Sevens as the Irish Sevens squad continue to prepare for the Rugby World Cup in Moscow in June.
Referee of the Year - Eddie Hogan O'Connell. After a playing career that included Junior and Senior Cup medals with PBC, representative honours with Munster U20s and Munster, and a long career with Sundays Well RFC, the winner of this award began his refereeing career in 2007. By 2011 he had experienced his first taste of European rugby as a 4th/5th official for the Heineken Cup. He was appointed to the IRFU National "A" Panel in 2012 and already in 2013 he has refereed his first international game (Wales v England U18), was Assistant Referee for the U20 Six Nations, and refereed the Ulster Bank League Division 1A decider between Lansdowne and Clontarf.
Hall of Fame Award - Liam Coughlan. Coughlan played on 21 occasions for Munster in a career that spanned 12 years (1956 to 1967). He played on two successful Munster interprovincial championship winning teams in 1959 and 1965 and represented the province against the touring South African team in 1960 at Musgrave Park. He shared in the joy of Munster's historic victory over Australia at Musgrave Park on 25th January 1967, the first occasion that an Irish province defeated a major touring team. He won a Munster Junior Cup medal in 1956 with Cork Constitution, and followed up with 5 successes in the Senior competition. He also played on Munster Senior League and Cork Charity cup winning teams. Success at schools level came in 1954 when he was a member of the PBC senior schools cup winning team and he also represented Munster at schools level. However, the one honour that eluded him was the green jersey of Ireland, despite the fact that he played in a number of Irish Final Trials, the' Irish V' never rewarded him with the ultimate honour. It is fair to say that Liam Coughlan was one of the greatest Irish wing forwards never to be capped for Ireland.
Senior Club of the Year - Cork Constitution FC. The club has contributed to the fabric of rugby in Cork, for Munster, Ireland and internationally for The Lions, both on and off the field. This club has provided great players of the game over the decades and count several capped British and Irish Lions players as one of their own. On the pitch, they reached the Munster Junior Cup final, were the third Munster club in a row to win the All Ireland Bateman Cup and for the 24th time in their history claimed the 2013 ODM Financial Munster Senior Cup.
Junior Club of the Year - Kanturk RFC. The Junior Club of the Year has ensured rugby is at the heart of their community. This season they have started girls' rugby in the club, and are heavily involved in promoting and organizing tag rugby in local schools. With 12 club coaches accredited at Foundation level and 4 coaches at Level 1 this season, this club has a wealth of coaching and playing talent coming through. On the pitch success has been unprecedented this year, coming runners up in the Junior 1 Division 1 League and winning the Munster Junior Clubs Challenge Cup and the Munster County Cup titles.
Club Youth Section of the Year - Bandon RFC. The Youth section of this club has emerged as a powerful force within the game and can now count itself as one of the top clubs not only in Munster but also throughout Ireland. They currently have 270 players registered in their Mini and Youth section and also field a Girls U19 team. On the pitch, their success has been outstanding this year, they won the Munster U15B Cup, but more notably and by making club history, their outstanding U19 squad have been unbeatable this season claiming the South Munster U19 Cup, the Munster U19 League and the All Ireland U19 Cup.
Club Mini Section of the Year - Clanwilliam RFC. The winners of this award have adopted a club ethos that embraces the spirit of what rugby is all about. Having canvassed extensively in local primary schools, this club registered 100 players at mini level for the 2012/13 season. They have 16 qualified mini coaches and during the season, they took part in a number of mini rugby blitzes throughout the province. Their mini section is going from strength to strength.
School of the Year - Crescent College Comprehensive. The Limerick school had a fantastic season with plenty of emerging talent demonstrated by their Junior Cup side who came runners up in the Munster Schools Junior Cup competition. Ten of their senior players have been named to represent Munster this year at U19 and U20 level. Their biggest success this season was winning the prestigious Munster Schools Senior Cup, defeating holders Rockwell College in Thomond Park on 18th March to clinch their 10th Senior Cup title.