The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman Award for June: Mona McSharry (Swimming)

The final medal table from the 2017 European Junior Swimming Championships in Israel had a pleasant look about it, only four nations finishing ahead of Ireland who shared fifth place with the Netherlands. And while Conor Ferguson chipped in handsomely with a silver in the 50m backstroke, it was Sligo’s Mona McSharry who contributed three quarters of the medal haul, the 16-year-gold ending the competition as Ireland’s most decorated European Junior medallist.

A year ago the Marlins, Ballyshannon swimmer gave a fair indication of her promise when she returned from the Championships in Hungary with a silver and bronze in her luggage. This time around she did enough to move past both Grainne Murphy and Sycerika McMahon in the European Junior roll of honour by collecting gold in the 50m and 100m backstroke and silver in the 200m. And there were a bunch of new Irish records, too. 

The first of those records was broken in McSharry’s opening swim of the competition, when she lowered her own Irish mark in the 50m breaststroke in the heats. Come the semi-finals she broke the senior record set by Fiona Doyle in 2013, before winning her first ever major medal by holding off the challenge of Poland’s Weronika Hellmann in the final. 

She was record-breaking again in her next event, the 200m backstroke. It’s an event she says she wouldn’t be “as fond of” and is “still learning how to do it”, but she still managed to break Doyle’s 2015 record in the final when she was only pipped to gold by a tenth of a second, Britain’s Layla Black catching her in the last five metres after McSharry had led from the start. “It was painful, but it was worth it,” she said.

Two medals in the bag, then, and before heading for home she picked up another gold in her favourite event, the 100m breaststroke. That’s what you call a useful trip.

There’ll be no lie-ins just yet, though. Her mother Viola will still be driving her from their Grange, Co Sligo home to the pool in Ballyshannon for her early morning sessions, McSharry now looking ahead to the World Senior Championships in Budapest in July and the World Junior Championships in Indianapolis in August. 

While still a junior, this her last year at that level, she qualified for the senior Championships when she won three gold medals at the nationals back in August, her times in each all inside the qualifying mark for Budapest. So, her immediate response to her success in Israel was: “There are a few things now that I can work on when I get back to training”.

No resting on her laurels, then, her summer’s only just begun. But what a golden start.