Rob Kearney has been named the 2011/12 Bank of Ireland Players Player of the Year at the gala Annual Awards ceremony in the Mansion House, Dublin on Saturday night…

Click HERE to view a picture gallery from the Leinster Rugby Awards Ball

Since making his debut in the 2005/06 season, former Louth minor Rob Kearney (who won the Young Player of the Year award that same year) has been a tower of consistency in the back three, specifically at full-back where he has excelled once more this year and he was nominated ahead of last year’s winner Isa Nacewa and Jonathan Sexton following another impressive campaign to date. Since his return from the Rugby World Cup the 26-year-old has featured in 13 Leinster games and his trademark aerial skills coupled with his attacking guile (which has so far reaped seven tries and a drop goal against Munster in the Aviva Stadium), made him a leading candidate amongst his team-mates.

Former Leinster Academy out-half Ian Madigan, 23, has been a consistent playmaker this season and has been awarded the Powerade Young Player of the Year following a string of good performances in both the PRO12 and Heineken Cup which saw him being rewarded with selection for the Ireland Wolfhounds for the first time in February. The former Blackrock College man has to date featured in 23 games and has scored eight tries in the process.

Another senior award winner on the night was Brian O’Driscoll who received the Evening Herald Try of the Year award for expertly finishing off the superb 34th minute move in the recent Heineken Cup quarter final victory over Cardiff Blues in the Aviva Stadium.

A special presentation was also made to Leinster legend Shane Horgan following his recent retirement as well as to several members of the Leinster squad who will be leaving the province at the end of the season.

Eddie ‘Ned’ Thornton was inducted into the Guinness Hall of Fame. Educated in Terenure College, Ned was an outstanding wing three-quarter for UCD, Terenure College RFC and Leinster an was also a sprinter of note. He was both a Coach and Selector of the Leinster senior provincial side and he also coached both UCD and Terenure College. A Past President of the Leinster Branch (1999/2000) he also held the same office in UCD RFC (1992/93) where he was a long-serving Leinster Branch representative.

Meanwhile, following their recent promotion to the Senior ranks of the All-Ireland League, Skerries RFC were double winners on the night when they were named both the Canterbury Club of the Year and their number eight Ross McAuley was named the Canterbury Club Player of the Year.

After six years in the Leinster League, Skerries returned to the All-Ireland League with victory over Connacht champions Monivea last Saturday at a packed Holmpatrick. Playing an open and expansive game the north county Dubliners overcame a slow start to impressively win a very competitive Leinster League Division 1A before going on to win all three games in the AIL Round Robin. Their stylish brand of winning rugby combined with excellent facilities at their extremely hospitable Holmpatrick base, facilities that include two new playing surfaces as well as state of the art floodlighting, attracted increasingly large crowds, an indication that there is a sizeable audience more than willing to attend club games. Congratulations and the best of luck to Skerries on their return to the AIL.

McAuley’s commitment and reliability have been an essential element in his club’s successful drive for promotion to the AIL as the north county Dublin club firstly won the Leinster League and then the Round Robin to reclaim their Senior status after six years away from the national stage. Ross’ dexterous ability at the base of the scrum and his athleticism around the park were the launching pad for many a successful attack as the space he created ultimately unleashed the pacey Skerries backline. His work-rate is second to none and he was a unanimous choice for the club player of the year.

St. Mary’s College hooker Paula Fitzpatrick won the Philips Ladies Player of the Year award. Paula’s swift progression through club, interprovincial and international Women’s rugby has been particularly admirable when you consider that her club rugby has all been played as an out-half. Having been selected at number 10 in Leinster’s interprovincial against Munster last season, when she came back to training in September Leinster Women’s Head Coach Dan Van Zyl had a different plan in mind. Paula’s exceptional ball-carrying and strong tackling skills inspired Van Zyl to move her into the pack, and her meticulous and committed work ethic regarding her move to become Leinster’s new hooker helped earn her nomination for the Women’s Player of the Year.

Old Belvedere RFC’s Mary McMahon also received the Ladies Club Person of the Year. Old Belvedere Ladies are a shining light for Leinster Womens Rugby at present with two teams – and pushing toward a third for the coming season. Running a seconds team is never an easy task, however Mary has led Old Belvedere’s J1 side to magnificent success, avoiding relegation to maintain their spot in Division 4 as well as making the Leinster Plate Final. Not only has she kept the team on track but she has also attended every meeting and given valuable feedback and assistance to the Leinster Women’s committee throughout the year. She is a pleasure to deal with and someone the committee knows they can call on at any time, this kind of dedication and commitment is rare and remarkable.

The Evening Herald Club Public Relations Officer (P.R.O.) award was awarded to Naas RFC’s Jim Casey who has this year excelled in the promotion of his club both at local and provincial levels.

St Michael’s College have been nominated as the Powerade School of the Year as a result of recording their first ever double in winning both the Powerade Schools Senior Cup and Junior Cup competitions. Both teams played outstanding rugby combining exciting attacking play with an aggressive organised defence. The Senior team defeated Clongowes Wood College SJ in a very exciting match while their Junior team overcame a strong challenge from Newbridge College. St. Michael’s have shown great consistency in reaching the final of the Powerade Junior Cup on each on the last six years.

In addition, St. Conleth’s College received the Special Merit School Award for reaching the final of the McMullen Cup for the first time and for their on-going commitment to Schools Rugby, providing players to Leinster Section ‘A’ Schools and fielding teams at all levels, for many years.

A special award was also made to Aisling O’Connor – a Leinster supporter who has travelled to every home and away game for the last two years. And, finally, Fionn Carr was nominated for the Wagamama Noodler of the Year.

All of the awards have been kindly donated by Tipperary Crystal and Paul Sheeran Jewellers.

Commenting on the awards, Leinster Rugby Chief Executive Michael Dawson said: “It is great for the players and backroom team to join all those stakeholders – from the clubs, schools and the women’s game as well as our sponsors and especially our loyal supporters – to celebrate what has been a successful year for Leinster Rugby across all spectrums of the game.

“The Annual Awards Ball is a special night to pay tribute to all those who contribute to the on-going growth and development of the game at all levels.

“I would like to congratulate all of the winners who have each played a part in Leinster’s success and who, along with a cast of thousands of players, coaches and volunteers, are helping to make the game grow across the province.”

Comedian Barry Murphy acted as MC on the night while 90’s tribute band ‘Smash Hits’ provided the entertainment in front of a crowd of 420.

Leinster Rugby Annual Award Winners 2011/12:

Bank of Ireland Players Player of the Year: Rob Kearney
Powerade Young Player of the Year: Ian Madigan
Evening Herald Try of the Year: Brian O’Driscoll (Heineken Cup Quarter Final v Cardiff Blues)
Wagamama Noodler of the Year: Fionn Carr
Guinness Hall of Fame Inductee: Eddie Thornton
Canterbury Club of the Year: Skerries RFC
Canterbury Club Player of the Year: Ross McAuley (Skerries RFC)
Evening Herald Club Public Relations Officer of the Year: Jim Casey (Naas RFC)
Philips Ladies Player of the Year: Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s College RFC)
Ladies Club Person of the Year: Mary McMahon (Old Belvedere RFC)
Powerade Schools of the Year: St. Michael’s College
Special Merit Award: St. Conleth’s College