McMahon, who is from Newcastle-West, received the award for September. While the awards are usually presented at a gala lunch in the Shelbourne hotel, this year due to Covid-19 they were streamed live as an online event from the hotel just before Christmas.
With handball courts closed until July 20th McMahon had to stay fit in other ways but when she returned to the courts, it was clear she was ready for action.
She won her quarter-final 21-0, 21-0 against Laura Finn, the Sligo woman who was playing in her first senior championships. And McMahon wasn’t a whole lot less ruthless in her semi-final against Kilkenny’s Aoife Holden, winning 21-1, 21-2, neither opponent able to deal with her serve.
Those performances were enough to earn the September award for McMahon who duly went on to win her third All Ireland 60×30 Softball title in a row, and her fourth in all, beating Kilkenny’s Ciara Mahon 21-2, 21-8 in the final in Offaly.
As Dessie Keegan, President of the GAA Handball Association, put it after the match, “I think Martina McMahon is probably a once in a generation handball player. She is absolutely dominant.”
The woman who has pushed McMahon the hardest in recent years, is Cork’s Catriona Casey, and the pair will hope to renew their rivalry in January or February when the rescheduled 40×20 final is due to be played.
Accepting the award, McMahon, who is recovering from a foot injury, told RTE’s Des Cahill about what she did during lockdown and her plans for 2021.
“Lockdown can be tough, even from a mental health perspective so I used it – when it was possible – to visit parts of the country and the county I hadn’t seen before. So I visited places like the Burren, the Cliffs of Moher and climbed Carrauntoohil.
“Next year is a world championship year so I’ll be looking to retain my titles in singles and doubles there, and the same in one wall…..My ultimate goal is to repeat the feat of 2018 and remain undefeated for the year.”
This is the 17th year of the awards and McMahon was among 12 other monthly award winners nominated for the 2020 title. Other winners included jockey Rachael Blackmore, last year’s Sportswoman of the Year, rower Sanita Puspure, golfer Stephanie Meadow and soccer player Diane Caldwell.
Taylor claims 5th Sportswoman of the Year Award
This year however it was the August winner, Katie Taylor, the undisputed world lightweight champion who was once again crowned The Irish Times / Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year for 2020. It’s the Bray boxer’s fifth time to win the award and comes after she enjoyed a highly successful 2020, defending her titles against Belgian rival Delfine Persoon and Miriam Gutierrez from Spain.
Accepting the award from her US base in Connecticut, she said it was a privilege and a great honour to be recognised in this way. She said that turning professional had been beyond her wildest dreams. “These have definitely been the most enjoyable few years of my whole career and this is coming after my lowest point as well, the Rio Olympics, so it really has been an amazing few years.”
O’Toole awarded Outstanding Contribution Award
Former soccer international star Olivia O’Toole, the most capped Irish women’s international soccer player of all time, was presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Sport Award 2020. O’Toole, who represented her country 130 times in a career which stretched from 1991 to 2009, is also Ireland’s record goal scorer at women’s international level with 54 goals.
Katie Taylor played with O’Toole for Ireland and during her interview with RTE’s Des Cahill she described her as the best player she ever played with and the best player we are ever going to see. As sporting activities were put on hold for several months due to Covid-19, the organisers decided to honour several sportswomen for their inspirational contributions to the wider community this year.
The three award winners who were honoured in this way were boxer Kellie Harrington, who led efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus on the frontline by returning to her previous job in St Vincent’s hospital in Fairview, Gaelic footballer Orlagh Farmer who spent lockdown devising instructive and fun programmes aimed at encouraging young girls to continue playing sport and runner Gina Akpe-Moses for being a powerful voice on the issue of racism.
Paying tribute to the 2020 winners, Sports Editor of The Irish Times Malachy Logan said it had to be acknowledged that they overcame a unique set of challenges this year.
“They all had to cope with constraints on training, the use of facilities and limits on travel. Nevertheless, they showed the dedication and resilience that marks them out as outstanding competitors and brilliant role models for the tens of thousands of girls who would like to follow in their footsteps.”
The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin TD said: “2020 may not have been the sporting year that we anticipated, but we have been very fortunate to witness many memorable achievements from our top sportswomen over the course of the last twelve months. Not only have impressive performances and achievements on the pitch been recognised, but it is important and fitting that a number of contributions off the field of play have also been rewarded.
“Each and every award recipient is an excellent ambassador for their sport and their country and I thank them for their commitment. I would like to acknowledge Sport Ireland and the Irish Times for continuing to recognise the incredible contribution of Irish women in sport. I would like to congratulate all of the monthly winners and also pay tribute to their families and all of the coaches and support teams who have helped them to reach the highest levels of sport.”
The Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs and Sport, Jack Chambers TD said: “It’s important that our young and aspiring athletes have role models to look up to and today we are honouring twelve such role models who have all excelled in their chosen code. While our top athletes have been keeping us all entertained during these difficult months, there have been great strides made in the number of women and girls participating in sport and physical activity.
“We have seen the gender gap in sports participation narrow to the lowest it has ever been, while the National Governing Bodies of Sport and the Local Sports Partnerships, with the support of Sport Ireland, have been doing fantastic work on the ground to increase and sustain participation at all levels. I congratulate all of today’s winners and look forward to what will hopefully be another excellent year for Irish athletes in 2021.”
Sport Ireland Chairman Kieran Mulvey described the day as one of the best in the Irish sporting calendar. “Today we celebrate all that is positive about sport both on and off the playing field as we honour Ireland’s top sporting talent. While many of our sporting arenas have unfortunately remained idle for much of the year, we have been lucky that our top athletes have been able to continue their training and competition.”