Sports Journalist of the Year – Daily Papers

Scroll down to meet the nominees for Sports Journalist of the Year – Daily Papers

The Shortlist

Andy Watters, The Irish News

Andy’s submission tells the fascinating stories of three men and their remarkable personal journeys; one from violence to sport, another from sport to spirituality and the third from illness and depression to enduring inspiration.

Philly McMahon: As one of Ireland’s best known sports stars Philly has won seven All-Ireland titles with the record-breaking Dublin Gaelic Football team. In this two-day feature he speaks for the first time ever about his late father’s involvement in the IRA during the Troubles.

After being shot and wounded in his native Belfast, Phil senior joined the Republic movement. He was later imprisoned, escaped, was caught, but escaped again and a life on the run brought him to Dublin. There he came to understand that peace was the way forward for Northern Ireland and he encouraged his son to lead the life that was denied to him because of the Troubles and excel in sport and business. This positive story also deals with themes such as loss, family pride and striving for success.  

Fr Phil Mulryne: A thought provoking tale of the amazing journey from Man United star to Man of the Cloth. This is the incredible story of former Manchester United, Norwich City and Northern Ireland midfielder Phil Mulryne who left the glitz and glamour of a footballer’s life behind to become a Dominican Friar.

For the first time, Fr Phil discusses the factors that guided him towards a totally unexpected switch to the religious life.  

Conor Devine: None of us really know what waits around the corner but Conor’s inspirational story proves that we all have the power to face whatever life throws at us.

In the blink of an eye he was robbed of the sporting and business careers he had established because of a mystery illness. As a result Conor’s life fell apart but he recovered to claw his way back, inch by inch, to physical fitness and mental health and now competes in the toughest individual sporting event there is. He truly is an Iron Man. 

Judges’ Comments:

Incredible features built around top Irish sports stars from Sectarian violence in The Troubles, from Manchester United football to the priesthood and from mystery illness at death’s door to becoming an Iron Man

Three gripping stories given the space to be told brilliantly. Quality sports feature writing. First-class ideas. First-class interviewing. First-class writing.

Carolyn Hitt, The Western Mail

Carolyn’s sports-writing brief is to appeal to a crossover audience – particularly women – using colour and comment to explore the Welsh passion for the oval ball in a variety of ways, from match previews and reports to in-depth features exploring rugby’s culture and history.

She also strives to articulate the fan experience, writing as often from the stands as the press box.

Her aim is to offer a different slant on rugby – creative, personal and always inclusive, with an eye to its bigger cultural context.

The three submitted articles demonstrate this approach as she reflects on the close of the Gatland Era, writes with warmth and wit on the nostalgia of a famous Welsh win at Wembley and pays tribute to Welsh captain Alun Wyn Jones as he becomes his nation’s most capped player.

Judges’ Comments:

Carolyn has a very appealing, uncomplicated style which makes her pieces easy to read. Obviously passionate about sport and has an excellent turn of phrase which enhances her writing.

Exceptional sports writing unashamedly through the eyes of an expert fan and – that rare quality in sports reporting – women’s voice. Compellingly analytical and readable.

Katie Sands, WalesOnline

Katie’s first story in her entry is an in-depth interview with Wales’ most-capped footballer, Jess Fishlock. Having gained her trust through writing previous stories about and with her, Katie was permitted to accompany her on an extremely personal and difficult return to her school in Cardiff: a place which holds many unpleasant, to say the least, memories from her formative years.

Despite that, she holds no bitterness, and speaks eloquently during the broad-ranging interview, guided by Katie’s prior research and interview development, about the foundation which keeps her stable – her home and family – societal pressures on sportswomen, what is actually important during a career and using her platform to help others. It was read more than 10,000 times.

Katie’s second feature is about a young man named Jeremiah Azu, a humble, normal Welsh boy who just happens to be the fastest teenager in Europe. This interview required a slightly different approach, with a younger interviewee: using emotional intelligence and letting the interview flow, Katie was allowed to get right to the heart of what makes Jeremiah the committed, driven and talented young athlete he is, and find out exactly what it takes to reach his level.

Katie’s final story in this entry is just one piece of her coverage for WalesOnline on the tragic death of Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala. After covering the search for the plane in which he died on live blogs and drawing on her experience as a news journalist, Katie ensured the paper kept readers informed every step of the way.

Breaking the first significant findings into digestable pieces of information for readers, while analysing what it meant going forward, was a fast-paced way of bringing this news to the reader, while also an immediate one which required accuracy, the ability to analyse information quickly and produce it in as reader-friendly a way as possible.

The judges said:

Really good mix of stories showing good range journalistic instinct.

Fascinating features covering the 18 year old schoolboy runner a split-second slower than Usain Bolt at 18 & the top female footballer returning to her ‘hell on earth’ school.

With Jess Fishlock, Katie took a difficult subject and made it very readable, seemingly without prying. She also managed to coax a good interview out of a young sprinter.

Leigh Curtis, The Nottingham Post and Nottinghamshire Live

When the 2018/19 football season kicked off, Notts County were among the bookies’ favourites for promotion from League Two. But no Magpies fan could have anticipated how the season would end as the club was relegated out of the football league and almost went out of business.

On the field the club’s demise came as three managers occupied the hotseat throughout the year – Kevin Nolan, Harry Kewell and, finally, Neal Ardley.

That chaotic situation was certainly not helped by what was going on in the boardroom.

It was this that captured the attention, not just of County supporters, but football fans across the country as the sport faced losing its oldest professional club.

Club owner Alan Hardy announced at the start of 2019 that he was putting the club up for sale as his company, Paragon Interiors, collapsed into administration.

The saga over who would take over Notts stumbled on for the rest of the season, but it was not until June we uncovered how troubled the situation was.

One of the prospective owners was being led by a lawyer named Colin Dodd.

He was among the preferred options but in the summer it was revealed one of his advisers was a gentleman called Alex May, a convicted fraudster who was previously known as Alick Kapikanya.

Kapikanya was jailed for conning the elderly in 2014 but the consortium insisted he was only acting as an adviser.

In June, Leigh received a confidential email that exposed the fact he was not acting as an adviser and very much planned to become the owner. This also proved the club had been conned as well – they later went on to halt discussions with this consortium.

A month later, Leigh got the first picture of the group that would eventually take over the club and was the first reporter to reveal their interest.

Leigh’s campaigning stories and exclusives led to one consortium being dismissed from takeover talks and attracted tens of thousands of readers to the Nottinghamshire Live website.

The paper also secured the support of Mrs Greenwood as we sought assurances over the future of Notts County from the relevant football authorities.

Judges’ Comments:

An excellent series of stories looking behind the scenes at the takeover of Notts County. Excellent investigative reporting, which asked the right questions which every fan wanted to know. And superbly written too. A pleasure to read, demonstrating the importance of news organisations having a football reporter with good contacts and who knows the club inside out.

Proper campaigning stories and exclusives that matter to local readers.

Neil Allen, The News, Portsmouth

Article 1 – Lee Smith

Former Southampton FC youth coach Bob Higgins was sentenced to 24 years in prison on 45 counts of indecently assaulting 24 boys.

Afterwards, Lee Smith waived anonymity to reveal to Neil the full horrors of the abuse he suffered at Higgins’ hands. Reporter and victim had been working on this article for a while, agreeing to publish once Higgins was sentenced, signifying the moment to fully unburden himself.

In this exclusive, Smith gives a brutally frank account of his torment, searingly honest and uncomfortable to stomach at times, such is its disturbing depth of detail.

The article has since been used as a voice by the victims of Higgins, Barry Bennell and other football coaches convicted of sexual abuse. Identifying with Lee’s message, they have repeatedly posted and retweeted the story link through social media since it came to light in The News.

It has also been used to strengthen the campaigns of the Offside Trust, which aims to help those affected, and leading lawyer Dino Nocivelli. They have been trying to publicise the plight of the ‘Forgotten Six’, victims whose cases against Higgins were previously thrown out of court and cannot be heard again through the Double Jeopardy rule.

Article 2 – Sam Magri

Days before Raheem Sterling was crowned the PFA Footballer of the Year, his former England skipper and room-mate was released by Ebbsfleet via Twitter.

This is the sobering story of Sam Magri, regarded as a future England star, with 31 international caps, yet ultimately never made a Football League appearance.

Neil’s article demonstrates the brutality of football, a youngster passed around big-name clubs, often against his will, and failing to fulfil talent expected to reach great heights.

Today he is rebuilding his career in non-league football.

Article 3 – Kev McCormack

Meet Kev McCormack, Pompey’s long-serving kitman possessing a remarkable sporting story.

Few realise this is Wales’ greatest amateur boxer who fought in three Commonwealth Games, sparred with Joe Calzaghe and whose ABA heavyweight title was later won by Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Dereck Chisora.

Yet for the last 20 years he has served as Pompey’s charismatic kitman.

Neil’s articles revealed McCormack lit Barcelona and Real Madrid legend Robert Prosinecki’s cigarettes at half-time, performed as Harry Redknapp’s golfing partner under extreme pressure, served as Peter Crouch’s removal man and owns a 2010 FA Cup final losers medal, a gift from Avram Grant.

The judges said:

A combination of excellent exclusives and interviews with stories that matter deeply at a local level but also resonate nationally too.

Neil writes with tremendous authority and gravitas. This portfolio offers a carefully written feature about a footballer who was a victim of sexual abuse. It has been crafted sympathetically, and the copy flows effortlessly. The two other submissions are first class reads about the fickle nature of football and about the kitman who has become a legend at Pompey. A joy to read.

Paul Abbandonato, WalesOnline

Paul produced three thought-provoking articles which demonstrated the qualities required in good sports journalism –  brilliant contacts to delve deep beneath the surface and elicit key and previously unknown facts, excellent knowledge of his subject matter, well researched writing and agenda setting.

Paul’s first story was the perfect example of this as he explored the tragic case of Emiliano Sala. This was not only the biggest Welsh sports story of the year, but one which also had news value right across the world and other media outlets quickly followed Paul’s article by reporting the same thing themselves.

Paul had used his contacts right inside the corridors of power to discover Sala’s new club Cardiff City were unwilling to pay the agreed £15m transfer fee to Nantes and produced a brilliantly researched piece to outline the reasons why.

Paul managed to obtain the exact details of the contract Sala had signed, looked at the minutiae of why Cardiff felt it was illegal and assessed the involvement of lawyers, insurance companies, controversial agent Willie McKay and whether Sala’s plane was fit for purpose.

Paul’s second article demonstrated knowledge of his subject matter accrued from 25 years of covering Welsh football. It was another agenda-setting piece which directly altered the opinions of many in Wales.

The morning after Wales beat Hungary to qualify for the European Championships, he produced an unrivalled assessment of how Giggs had achieved something quite extraordinary – against a backdrop of lots of fans remaining vehemently against his appointment as Wales manager.

Paul explained the reasons for Giggs’ bold decisions, looked at why they had paid off and also candidly assessed errors he made, but learned from.

The enormous scale of Giggs’ efforts in getting Wales to qualify had gone somewhat under the radar because his critics didn’t want to acknowledge his success. But it was put into perspective by Paul who concluded: ‘To achieve that in the circumstances he has done, and in such swashbuckling style, should give Giggs a greater sense of satisfaction than even winning Champions Leagues and Premier League gongs at Old Trafford.’

Paul’s third article was a compelling interview with the chairman of Wales’ most remarkable football club TNS, the little village side from Llansantffraid who punched way above their weight to battle with the giants of the UEFA Champions League. A classic David versus Goliath success story, it made for another fascinating read.

Judges’ Comments:

Great agenda-setting journalism on the sports story of the year – Emilio Sala. Paul’s brilliant contacts & research featured on the national & international news media. 

The Emilano Sala investigative piece is a brilliant, in-depth analysis of what happened to the Argentine footballer who perished in a plane crash. Paul leaves no stone unturned with a thorough and comprehensive investigation, which is well-sourced, and superbly written. His analysis pieces on Ryan Giggs’ tenure as Wales manager and the well-crafted feature on TNS, the village side from Llansantffraid which reached the Champions’ League, demonstrate pin-point analysis, and great story telling.