2016 HAS UNDOUBTEDLY been an incredible year of sport, both at home and abroad.

One thing that’s really interesting looking back through the year, is the names that we know now that we hadn’t heard a whisper of just twelve months ago.

Of course, people who follow certain sports closely may have heard of certain sportspeople before others, but we’ve compiled a list of some of the athletes who were pretty much unheard of last December.

If there’s anyone else that you think deserves a mention, let us know in the comments section below.

1. Marcus Rashford

Source: Rui Vieira

Never mind this time last year, at the beginning of February, Marcus Rashford was still a name that didn’t mean much to sports fans. By June, he was representing England at the Euros.

In May alone, Rashford won an FA Cup, signed a new four-year contract with United, and scored within three minutes of his international debut.

Making his United debut against Midtjylland at the end of February, the then-18-year-old scored twice, and then scored two more in his first Premier League appearance against Arsenal.

2. Joey Carbery

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Last year, Joey Carbery was impressive for the Ireland U20s and in the Ulster Bank League with Clontarf, but he was relatively unknown outside of those circles.

Fast forward just over 12 months, and the 21-year-old made his Ireland senior debut against the All Blacks at Soldier Field. Carbery also made his Pro12 debut for Leinster a memorable one, scoring two tries.

3 & 4. Gary and Paul O’Donovan

It’s hard to imagine time what life was like before we knew the O’Donovan brothers. After winning rowing silver at the Olympics, Paul and Gary O’Donovan almost instantly became household names. Paul then went on to win gold at the World Rowing Championship gold in the men’s lightweight sculls final.

From “pull like a dog” to “there’ll be steak and spuds”, the brothers really did brighten up our 2016.

5. Simone Biles

Source: Owen Humphreys

Although she was virtually unstoppable with 10 gold medals at the last three world championships, it wasn’t until Rio 2016 that the wider world really met American gymnast Simone Biles.

At the tender age of 19, Biles marked her Olympic debut with a record-equalling four golds, just short of the record five she sought. The only blip standing between her and history was a slip on the beam on the penultimate day of competition, which meant she finished in the bronze position.

6. Renato Sanches

Source: Petr David Josek

Winner of the 2016 Golden Boy award, Renato Sanches took Portugal’s Liga NOS by storm in 2016, running the Benfica midfield. He was a major factor in Portugal’s Euro 2016 underdog win, and was named Young Player of the Tournament in the process. Prior to his sensational performance at the Euros, Sanches was signed by Bayern Munich.

7. Kellie Harrington


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A year ago, Kellie Harrington wasn’t next to or near the international radar as an elite boxer. She was competing in club tournaments and national championships. This May however, she performed incredibly well at the world championships in Astana, booked a place in the final against the odds and took home a silver medal.

8. Callum O’Dowda

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Before Martin O’Neill named his 35-man panel for May’s friendly game against the Netherlands before Euro 2016, Callum O’Dowda was a name that was almost unheard of. His performances with the international U21 side had caught O’Neill’s eye, and he was handed his senior debut against Belarus at Turner’s Cross.

2016 also saw the 21-year-old winger make the move to Championship side Bristol City.

9. Seamus Power

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Waterford golfer Seamus Power won his first Web.com Tour title in May, becoming the first Irish player to do so. After getting his name out there, he then went on to represent Ireland at the Olympics, finishing in a tie for 15th place. He then secured his place on the PGA Tour, putting on impressive displays at the Sanderson Farms Championhip in Mississippi and the OHL Classic in Mexico.

10. Oliver Dingley

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Dingley became the first diver to represent Ireland at the Olympics since 1948, and before his qualification in February he was unheard of. He went on to finish eighth in the men’s 3m springboard diving final, and secured a personal best of 442.90.

11. Leanne Kiernan

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Unless you’re a big fan of women’s soccer, this time last year you surely hadn’t heard of breakthrough star Leanne Kiernan.

The 17-year-old striker from Cavan had a dream 2016. She starred for Shelbourne in the WFAI Cup final, scoring a hat-trick to lead her side to glory.

Kiernan also scored and received player of the match on her first start for the Ireland Women’s National Team and was a pivotal goal-scorer for the international U17 and U19 sides throughout the year.

12. Niyi Adeolokun

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Despite signing for Connacht in 2014, Adeolokun was on the fringes and hadn’t made a name for himself. This all changed this year, however. The Nigerian native was Connacht’s star in their Pro-12 semi-final win over Glasgow, his try ensuring a final sport with Leinster. He struck again with an unbelievable solo effort in the final. 2016 also saw him sign a new contract with the provincial side and called up to the Ireland squad, making his debut in the November Test against Canada.

13. Dak Prescott

Source: Ron Jenkins

The quarterback has been playing out of his skin for the Dallas Cowboys this season. The 23-year-old played college football for the Mississippi State Bulldogs from 2013 to 2015, before being selected for the Cowboys in the 2016 NFL Draft. He’s managed to keep Tony Romo on the sidelines, after the veteran QB missed the start of the season through injury

14. Wayde Van Niekerk

Source: Gregory Bull

South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk smashed Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world record in Rio as he produced a blistering run from lane eight to take 400m gold.

Having won silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and gold at last year’s world championships, Van Niekerk was still hardly known outside of athletics circles. His performance at the Olympics ensured that everyone knows him now though.

15. Jimmy Feehan

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Tipperary half-back really impressed for Liam Kearns’ men this summer and took the senior inter-county scene by storm.

With an already sparking underage career behind him, Feehan was determined to make himself known on a wider scale and that’s just what he did. He hit the net after only 35 seconds of Tipperary’s Munster final loss to Kerry and was excellent in their quarter-final win over Galway.

Feehan also helped UCD to their Sigerson Cup title victory in February.

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