The annual Munster Rugby Awards, in association with the Irish Independent, took place in Cork’s Maryborough Hotel today with eleven awards presented to worthy recipients involved in domestic and professional rugby across the province.
The Munster squad – including captain Doug Howlett, Lions call-up Conor Murray and former Player of the Year winners James Coughlan, Ronan O’Gara and Donnacha Ryan – were in attendance, joining domestic game volunteers in recognising and honouring rugby achievements in Munster.
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, County Tipperary is a product of the Munster Rugby Academy and a former Ireland Youths, Under-19 and Under-20 player. He has played 66 times for Munster since his debut in September 2007, and has scored four tries this season in 21 appearances for the province.
Despite sustaining two injuries during the course of the year the powerful back rower cemented a regular starting position, fighting off stiff competition to impress in every outing.
His team-mates have paid tribute to his rousing pre-match words before the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Harlequins 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, Mick O’Driscoll, David Wallace, O’Gara and John 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 shoo-in for the Young Player award after the season he put in.
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.
His first Six Nations tournament saw him became a household name thanks to a try and 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 six tries, including a famous hat-trick against Racing Metro 92 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 the 2013/14 season.
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’ team against Connacht Eagles in a pre-season game last August and then went on to make his British & Irish 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 derby match against Leinster at Thomond Park last month 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 it she is, fresh from her success as part of the Irish Women’s Grand Slam winning team.
The full-back was the top overall points scorer in this year’s competition, with a personal haul of 43 points (three tries, five conversions and six 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 them reclaim the Interprovincial title this season.
She looks set to line out for the Irish Women’s Sevens side at the London Invitational Sevens this weekend as the squad continue their preparations for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow next month.
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 Under-20s and Munster, and a long career with Sunday’s Well RFC, the winner of this award began his refereeing career in 2007.
By 2011 Eoin had experienced his first taste of European rugby as a fourth/fifth 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 Under-18s), was assistant referee for the Under-20 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 January 25, 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 five 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.
Cork Constitution have provided great players of the game over the decades and count several capped British & 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 Ulster Bank Bateman All-Ireland Cup and for the 24th time in their history claimed the 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 four coaches at Level 1 this season, Kanturk RFC have a wealth of coaching and playing talent coming through.
On the pitch success has been unprecedented this year, finishing as 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 Bandon RFC 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 Under-19 team.
On the pitch, their success has been outstanding this year, they won the Munster Under-15 ‘B’ Cup, but more notably and by making club history, their outstanding Under-19 squad have been unbeatable this season claiming the South Munster U-19 Cup, the Munster U-19 League and the All-Ireland U-19 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, Clanwilliam 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 Crescent’s senior players have been named to represent Munster this year at Under-19 and Under-20 level. Their biggest success this season was winning the prestigious Munster Schools Senior Cup, defeating holders Rockwell College at Thomond Park in March to clinch their 10th Senior Cup title.