Former soccer international star Olivia O’Toole was presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Sport Award at the Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman Awards 2020 just before Christmas.
O’Toole, the most capped Irish women’s international soccer player of all time, represented her country 130 times in a career which stretched from 1991 to 2009 and is also Ireland’s record goal scorer at women’s international level with 54 goals.
Indeed, she was the overall top scorer – starting with the winner on her debut against Spain in Seville – until Robbie Keane surpassed her with 68.
As a youngster she played with Sheriff Street Boys, Raheny United and Drumcondra Ladies, before going on to win eight FAI cups and nine league titles with several clubs, including Blacklion, Castle Rovers, Shamrock Rovers and Raheny.
The 49-year-old, who is a Recreations Officer with Dublin City Council, grew up in Sherriff Street in the 1980’s.
She said previously that while the people of the area are fantastic, it wasn’t a happy place back then due to the heroin issue which affected many of her friends and family.
She has always credited football with providing her with an escape route from those issues.
While the awards are usually presented at a gala lunch in the Shelbourne Hotel, this year’s event took place mainly online due to Covid.
However, O’Toole was interviewed live by RTE’s Des Cahill in the Shelbourne where she was presented with her award by Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs and Sport, Jack Chambers.
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She described what it was like to be the only girl playing on boys’ teams. “When I played with Sheriff Street [Boys] I also had my own dressing room.
“The boys had their own dressing room, so that was okay, but other teams didn’t like the fact that I was a girl playing with boys.
“That absolutely bothered me, but I thrived on it; I thrived that they didn’t want me to play, so I think that’s probably why I ended up being the player that I was, growing up, because I was always trying to prove people wrong, that girls could play with boys, that everyone is equal, if you know what I mean.
“That’s probably why I became the top goal scorer, because I wanted to prove that to people.”
Kellie Harrington was also honoured on the day for her efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus on the frontline by returning to her previous job in St Vincent’s hospital in Fairview.
Her frontline work includes cleaning the hospital’s newly opened isolation ward, a hazardous task that Harrington had no qualms about taking on.
She has also found time to get involved in the campaign to help people deal with both the physical and mental impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, #InThisTogether, where her focus has been on encouraging us all to keep active.
Undisputed world lightweight champion boxer Katie Taylor was crowned Sportswoman of the Year for 2020. It is 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.