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Micheál Donoghue, the Galway hurling manager, held off the sternest competition imaginable from Irish horse racing, not to mention the double-winning Cork City and three-in-a-row Dublin footballers to be named Philips Lighting Sports Manager of the Year for 2017.
“Genuinely it’s a shock,” said Donoghue despite guiding the Tribesmen to their first All-Ireland since 1988.
“Just with the calibre of people there. The likes of Aidan O’Brien, Jim Gavin and John Caulfield. ”
Now folk will wonder whether Galway can avoid the pitfalls experienced by Tipperary who failed to retain Liam MacCarthy in 2011 and again when champions earlier this season.
“Fair point. I have no doubt we go in next year with a target on our back but I think what we developed over the last two seasons, we are not going to deviate too much from those principles and standards. Both the manager and players will seek to raise those standards. We will be well ready for next year.”
The joy surrounding Galway’s homecoming was captured by a now iconic photograph of Donoghue embracing his father, Micheál senior or ‘Miko,’ with the cup as the panel arrived in Ballinasloe.
“Look, I got caught with the cameras straight after the event,” said Donoghue. “I’ve said many a time I would have preferred a more personal environment but the reaction to it has been unbelievable. No matter where we have gone, Boston, London, people want to talk about it.
“The fact he has dementia has prompted people to come up and talk about it because they also have a family member with dementia. That has been special. It was a poignant moment. A great picture, one to treasure.
“We have a coach company back home and Dad drove the team coach back in 1980, 1987 and ’88 and played a huge part in my own career. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with dementia at the same time I took the Galway job. It was just great to see him.”
That achievement sees off another epic year for equestrian trainers with monthly awards for Willie Mullins, Jessica Harrington, Aidan O’Brien and 24- year-old Joseph O’Brien, the first son to beat his father in the Melbourne Cup after Rekindling surged past Johannes Vermeer last month.
Joseph’s mother, Anne-Marie O’Brien, a daughter of trainer Joe Crowley, collected the award on her son’s behalf.
“Early in the straight it was apparent one of them was going to win,” she told Des Cahill from the podium at the Intercontinental hotel.
“Who were you cheering for?” asked Cahill.
“It was incredible,” said Mrs O’Brien, skilfully evading the answer before returning to sit beside her husband, who won the June award after breaking the record for Group/Grade One winners in a calendar year.
Still, the judges, representing the major media outlets in Ireland, overlooked the Ballydoyle stables to make Donoghue the seventh hurling recipient of an annual prize that dates back to Kilkenny manager Pat Henderson capturing the gong in 1982.
That Gavin was overlooked for a second win, following his 2013 success, also raised a few eyebrows.
“It’s great fun,” said the September monthly winner of his is role as Dublin football manger.
The other monthly ward winners were Cork City manager John Caulfield, Cork hurling manager Kieran Kingston, Glanmire basketball coach Mark Scannell – completing a trio for the Rebel county – Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers and Brian Nugent of Cycling Ireland.
Brian Kerr, the overall winner in 1997 and 1998, accepted the April award on behalf of his former assistant manager during their Republic of Ireland days, Chris Hughton.
“Chris is a great guy who knows the game as well as anyone, probably from all those years working with all those managers at Spurs,” said Kerr of the Brighton & Hove Albion manager who was busy preparing his team for Wednesday night’s match against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley.
“In many way’s he’s unsuited to the imagine of the modern game. He’s particularly courteous.”