Champagne moment for Banahan
PROFESSIONAL rugby star Matt Banahan's meteoric rise through the ranks of his sport was recognised by his fellow Channel Islanders last night when he was announced as the Sportingbet CI Sports Personality for 2007.
The 21-year-old Jerseyman had to come from behind to do it though, with a late surge of public votes overtaking Guernsey's world-class bowls star Alison Merrien.
Former Les Quennevais School pupil Banahan finished just 200 ahead, with 41 per cent of the vote.
The glittering, televised, awards ceremony at Beau S?jour, Guernsey, had also pitted Banahan, Bath RFC's leading try scorer in his Guinness Premiership debut season and an England Sevens squad member to boot, against Jersey's Elizabeth Cann, the national badminton champion, and Guernsey's international athlete Dale Garland.
Following on from Jersey's first-ever winner in the annual awards bash, yachtsman Phil Sharp for 2006, Banahan, a former Youth and Siam Cup player for Jersey Rugby Club, impressed with his mature performance on stage after being presented with the award by Olympic hurdler Colin Jackson and Sportingbet's chief executive Andrew Mclver.
Rugby was not the only Jersey sport celebrating last night though - cricket's amazing season was recognised by the Aurigny Team of the Year trophy - and the Cenkos Coach of 2007 award.
Not given to any one team this time, but to the many Island sides under the banner of the Jersey Cricket Board, including their U15, U19 and U23 teams that all reached European Division II finals, with the latter two winning the titles.
The senior Island side also beat Italy 2-0 away to meet playing standards required for associate membership of the ICC, as well as ending Guernsey's long run of success in the senior inter-insular.
Cricket edged out Jersey RFC's U18 Hampshire Cup winners, Jersey's highly successful Atlantic Rim bowlers, and Guernsey's record-breaking 4 x 400 metre relay team.
Chris Minty, Jersey's director of cricket, won the Coach of the Year award, despite being under considerable pressure from John Grady, Jersey's British Gymnastics Disabilities squad coach; Mavis Richards, Guernsey's junior indoor bowling team coach and Guernsey cricket's Jason Shambrook.
The Sporting Hero trophy also went to Jersey, providing one of the evening's most memorable moments when it was awarded posthumously to Michael Lucas, the former managing director of Channel Television, a Great Britain international and national age group sprint champion triathlete.
The award was collected by his widow Audrey and his son James, who gave a moving acceptance speech which underlined his late father's status as a hero - to family and beyond - on and off the triathlon course.
Guernsey were left far from empty-handed, however, and their sparkling tennis prospect Heather Watson, the national U16 champion, ended a long run of success for Jersey in the NatWest Rising Star category.
The 15-year-old became the first Sarnian to win the award since squash player Chris Simpson shared the 2002 title with Jersey hockey player Beckie Herbert.
Watson edged out fellow Sarnians Tim Ravenscroft, a cricketer who enjoyed a superb season at Island, county and regional level, and the youngest nominee, Alice Loveridge, the island's youngest individual Island Games gold medal winner, when she won the ladies singles in Rhodes on her 13th birthday.
Jersey's sole nomination was golfer Olivia Jordan-Higgins who won individual silver and team gold in Rhodes, as well as recognition with several awards while at university in the USA.
A special presentation was made to Sarnian world touring cars champion Andy Priaulx, twice a winner of the main prize and a sportsman who again asked not to be considered for the top award this year.
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