The annual Munster Rugby Awards, in association with the Irish Examiner, took place in Thomond Park on Saturday night with eleven awards presented to worthy recipients involved in domestic and professional rugby in Munster.
While the Munster team played out a 36-8 victory against Ulster, squad players not involved such as Doug Howlett, Denis Leamy and David Wallace joined domestic game volunteers in recognising and honouring rugby achievements across the province.
Donnacha Ryan was named Munster Player of the Year, fighting off competition from fellow nominees Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell and James Coughlan.
Ryan, a native of Nenagh, County Tipperary, made his 100th competitive appearance for Munster in Saturday night’s clash with Ulster.
He made his senior debut for Munster off the bench in the Celtic League game against the Opsreys in Swansea back in September 2004.
His first start came exactly two years later alongside Chris Wyatt in the league game against Cardiff at the Arms Park.
Ryan was one of the Heineken Cup medal winners in 2008 and he also made his senior international debut that year against Argentina.
He now joins previous winners Mick O’Driscoll, David Wallace, Ronan O’Gara, John Hayes and James Coughlan in receiving the top Munster accolade.
The Young Player of the Year was awarded to Cork’s Peter O’Mahony. The 22-year-old first came to prominence when he captained Munster to the inaugural British & Irish Cup final in the 2009/10 season.
He ended that season with two appearances for the senior side off the bench. Last season he made his first start for Munster in the game against Australia and his first league start came against the Scarlets a week later.
In the current campaign he captained Munster in five of their opening six RaboDirect PRO12 matches, made his Heineken Cup debut against Northampton Saints in the first round and scored a sensational try against Castres Olympique in round 2. He went on to make his Ireland senior debut game against Italy last February.
Academy player David O’Callaghan was the worthy recipient of the John McCarthy award for Academy Player of the Year.
O’Callaghan is in his final year in the Munster Academy and played two years of Ireland Under-20 rugby where he progressed to become an integral part of this year’s Munster ‘A’ British & Irish Cup winning team.
He made his competitive debut in the Rabodirect PRO12 against the Ospreys in October and made his Heineken Cup debut against Northampton in Munster’s memorable victory in Milton Keynes last January.
Aged 22 and a native of Youghal, County Cork, O’Callaghan plays his club rugby with Dolphin and has secured a Development contract with Munster for next season.
Senior Club of the Year – Cashel RFC. The Tipperary club won the Junior Club of the Year in 2011 and were promoted to senior Level that same year. In their first year as a senior club their achievements have been unparalleled.
They reached the semi-final of the Cork Charity Cup, the last-eight of the Munster Senior Cup and the highlight of their season was being crowned champions of Ulster Bank League Division 2B. Cashel went through their league campaign undefeated, the only club to achieve this in the Ulster Bank League this season.
Hall of Fame Award – Ray Hennessy. Capped on ten occasions for Munster, Ray Hennessy learned his rugby at Presentation Brothers College Cork, and played in all three schools interprovincial matches where and was honoured with the captaincy against Connacht Schools.
In the autumn of 1955 he played full-back against Leinster in the junior interprovincial match in Dublin. He won the first of his two Munster Senior Cup winners’ medals with Cork Constitution and four years later captained the Cork club when they won a memorable decider against Garryowen at Thomond Park.
Women’s Player of the Year – Heather O’Brien. Playing for Highfield, Heather O’Brien was selected for all of Munster’s interprovincial games this season. Her performances caught the attention of the international management and as a result she was involved throughout this year’s Six Nations tournament.
Referee of the Year – John Lacey. This is the second year John Lacey has been awarded the honour of Referee of the Year having first won it in 2007. Lacey began refereeing in 2007 and this season refereed in his second Junior World Championship, and also took charge of Heineken Cup, RaboDirect PRO12 and Amlin Challenge Cup games.
This June he has been selected to referee England v Barbarians, Fiji v Japan and Samoa v Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup before going to South Africa as an assistant referee for South Africa v England.
Junior Club of the Year – Richmond RFC. The Limerick side has enjoyed a wealth of success this year, winning the Munster Junior League and making this their second league success in three seasons.
Richmond have also won the Junior Clubs Challenge Cup this season and recently won the Transfield Cup, retaining it for the third year in-a-row.
Club Youth Section of the Year – Bruff RFC. With 262 players registered in their Youth section and eight players selected for the Munster Youths, the Bruff youth squads once again recorded a successful season with the Under-17s winning the Avonmore Super Milk Munster Youths League and North Munster league.
Club Mini Section of the Year – Killarney RFC. Killarney RFC prove worthy winners with 125 registered players at mini level and 10 qualified mini coaches who all are fully compliant with player registration.
The Kerry club boast excellent coach education policies and referee participation and encourage every child irrespective of experience or ability to get involved in both matches and training as a means of helping them to achieve their potential.
School of the Year – Ard Scoil Ris. The Limerick school have enjoyed a very successful season, winning the Schools Under-14 McCarthy Cup, the inaugural Topflight National Under-18 Rugby Sevens Championship and also reached the final of the Munster Schools Junior Cup two years in-a-row.