International Women's Day: Three inspirational Irish athletes

International Women's Day has been an active campaign since the early 1900s

International Women's Day: Three inspirational Irish athletes

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

International Women's Day is an annual event which reflects on the plight of women and strives to recognise the ongoing achievements of women across all platforms on a global scale.

And this includes sport. Female athletes are invariably neglected and by extension of that, their feats have gone unnoticed. We can all wax lyrical about Sonia O'Sullivan's famous strides to a silver medal finish in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and Cora Staunton's miraculous ability to outscore an opposing Ladies GAA team, is deservedly well-known.

But for International Women's Day 2016, we want to take a look at female Irish athletes who don't always receive the plaudits.

Sophie Spence - Rugby

At 21, the Newcastle netball player switched to rugby after falling in love with the sport at a training session.

Last year the Ireland second-row received a Rugby World Player of The Year nomination on the back of her instrumental performances as part of Ireland's second successful Six Nations campaign in three years. Spence was also recognised at the 2015 Rugby Writers of Ireland awards when she was named the Women's Player of The Year.

With eight years of consistent Rugby experience behind her, Spence also has a 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup and a Grand Slam in 2013 to her credit. 

Emma Byrne - Soccer

Another quick learner in our short-list, Emma Byrne took up soccer at 13 and within a year, she was a member of the Irish U16 team. From there, she left for Denmark to take up the sport on a full-time basis before signing for Arsenal, and that is where she has remained.

To date, she is Arsenal's longest serving player and has survived the several attempts of those who tried to contest her position between the sticks.

At international level, Byrne has accumulated over 100 caps as the Ireland number one and is regarded as one of the world's best goalkeepers in women's soccer. 

Leona Maguire- Golf

After being named the World Number One golfer in the amateur ranks last year - a position she continues to hold - the likelihood of 21-year-old Maguire graduating to the professional ranks is all but assured.

The new ranking ultimately paved out significant paths for Maguire in 2015. As the newly crowned World Number One, she was awarded the Mark H McCormack Medal at the end of the year and she has also been invited to take part in this year's Women’s Open in California as well as the Richoh Women’s British Open at Woburn. 

2016 looks to be shaping up favourably for her elsewhere as Leona is set to lead Britain and Ireland against the USA in the Curtis Cup at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in June.

She's currently in her second year of a sports scholarship in Duke University with her twin sister Lisa alongside her for company.

In her youth, this prodigious talent represented Europe in the Junior Solheim Cup and Junior Ryder Cup, and although she remains a player of amateur status, the Cavan native is set to represent Ireland in the Rio Olympic games, having gathered enough qualifying points at some professional events.