Dublin: 16°C Monday 27 June 2022

'It's been a phenomenal year for Irish women in sport'

Leona Maguire was one of many to excel on the world stage in 2021.

LEONA MAGUIRE LISTENED to Republic of Ireland women’s captain Katie McCabe speak earlier this week.

golf-sep-06-lpga-solheim-cup Leona Maguire celebrating with the Solheim Cup. Source: Brian Spurlock

The now-Arsenal superstar talked about going to one game a year with her Dad when she was younger, and how that inspired her. About watching women’s football on television, and saying, ‘I want to be there one day’.

(It sounds like a story McCabe so often tells about the 2007 FA Cup final, which coincidentally, an Arsenal team, featuring Irish legends Emma Byrne and Ciara Grant, won. On Sunday, the Dubliner will play a key role in the 2021 Wembley showdown.)

“I think we can all identify with that,” Maguire smiles. “I remember going to watch Irish Opens with my Dad when I was younger, going to watch the Solheim Cup in Killeen Castle in 2011, getting to play in Irish Opens myself and watching Michelle Wie and Suzann Pettersen and these players and hoping one day, I’d be like them. 

“I think any time that there’s that visibility there, it’s massive, and just showing little girls and boys that it is possible to do these things like people that are like them, from places like them. It is possible.”

It’s not over yet, but it’s fair to say that Maguire and McCabe were two of the stars of Irish women’s sport in 2021.

From a world-class showing at the Solheim Cup, 10 years on from being a young fan at Killeen Castle, to a remarkable Rolex world ranking jump from 177th to 45th, and everything she did so well on the LPGA Tour in between, Maguire reflected on her momentous year from Orlando this week, before she heads home to Cavan for Christmas and turns her attention to 2022.

She’s always one to shift the spotlight from herself, though. To look at the bigger picture, as a vocal advocate for, and supporter of, women in sport.

A look back through the Irish names that hit the highest of heights this year tells you everything you need to know: Maguire, Kellie Harrington, Rachael Blackmore, Ellen Keane, Katie-George Dunlevy, Eve McCrystal and Katie Taylor to name a few. Then there’s the Irish women’s four rowing team, the Meath ladies footballers, and McCabe’s Girls In Green.

The list could go on and on; all well and truly established as local, and national, heroes, and more often than not, are now referred to on a first-name basis.

maguire Pictured at the Slieve Russell Hotel Golf & Country Club is Professional Irish Golfer and Davy ambassador, Leona Maguire. Davy is proud to support young Irish athletes. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I think it’s been a phenomenal year for Irish women in sport,” Maguire, who celebrated her 27th birthday on Tuesday, smiles. “I think we’ve taken the 20×20 campaign and ran with it. I think we’ve put it into action really and shown, given the right opportunity, what our female athletes can achieve — not just on a national level, but on a global stage.

“That was the thing with the Solheim Cup, I didn’t want to just go there and take part. I wasn’t there to make up the numbers, I wanted to do my very best and contribute in a meaningful way.

“That was special when I came home after; seeing people talk about it, having watched it — people that would never normally watch golf, would never normally watch women’s golf were watching it and chatting about it and all of a sudden, people were experts on it. Maybe they hadn’t watched on the Saturday, but heard people talking about it and then watched it on the Sunday and went, ‘Ah, this is great,’ and then came home on Monday evening after work and watched it again.

“It was fun for me to see people excited about it, and people from all walks of life and all ages as well — older men, little boys, little girls, everybody, which is something I’ve never really experienced before, in terms of me playing anyway.”

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While this group of special Irish sportswomen inspire so many, they motivate one another too.

As Maguire best saw at the Tokyo Olympics, where she cheered Harrington to gold.

A two-time Olympian now, Tokyo was much different than Rio amidst the pandemic – five years ago, she watched Phelps in the pool, Bolt on the track, and every Irish athlete compete – but as the old saying goes, what’s rare is wonderful, and fortunately, when Maguire was finished up, she was able to watch Harrington’s gold medal fight.

“That was inspiring to see her achieve her dreams on a world stage, knowing how much she deserved it and how much work she had put in,” she smiles.

It’s fair to say that applies for Kellie, Leona, et al.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Emma Duffy

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