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Rachel wins prestigious NI award

Northern Ireland midfielder Rachel Furness has been named as the 2021 BBC Northern Ireland Sports Personality of the Year.

The 33-year-old played a starring role as the Northern Ireland senior women’s team defied the odds and qualified for next summer’s Women’s European Championship finals.

In November, the Liverpool Ladies midfielder made history by becoming Northern Ireland’s all-time top goalscorer, netting twice against North Macedonia to take her overall career tally to 38 senior international goals.

Furness was presented with the BBC award by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp at the Merseyside club’s training ground. He congratulated her and the Northern Ireland team on their achievements this year and wished them success for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 in England.

Rachel follows the likes of Rory McIlroy, Carl Frampton, David Healy and Jonathan Rea in collecting the annual honour.

Speaking about winning BBC Northern Ireland Sports Personality of the Year, Rachel pointed out: “It is a fantastic moment for me to be only the second woman to ever win this award, but it isn’t just about me, it is about my team.

“I want to dedicate this award to my team-mates in the Northern Ireland squad. Over the past 12 months we have achieved so much and hopefully this is just the start of something really special.”

The judging panel, led by Lady Mary Peters, selected Furness as the overall winner. Special mention was made of the achievements of Paralympic gold medallists Bethany Firth and Jason Smyth as well as the Tyrone senior football team’s GAA All-Ireland Football Championship success.

Patrick Nelson, the Irish FA’s chief executive officer, said: “Our vision is for every boy and girl in Northern Ireland to dream of wearing the green jersey with pride. Rachel embodies this. She is a beacon who will help lead us into a massive 2022 and this recognition is fully deserved.”

Neil Brittain, Executive Editor of BBC Sport NI, said: “In a year packed full of sporting achievement, the remarkable success of the Northern Ireland women’s international team really stood out for the panel.

“Rachel has been a truly inspirational sports star, leading by example in a team that has gone from strength to strength. She may have been injured for the play-off decider (against Ukraine Women in Belfast) but one of the most memorable images of 2021 is her cheering her team-mates on from the sidelines with her crutches in the air.

“She battled back from that setback to break the record for international goals, and I have no doubt that in doing so she has inspired a generation of young girls and boys to take up the game.”

The judging panel featured Olympic gold medallist Lady Mary Peters, Kenny Archer (Irish News), Neil Brittain (BBC Sport NI), Darren Fullerton (Daily Mirror), Jim Gracey (Belfast Telegraph Sports Editor) and chair Thomas Kane (BBC Sport NI).