Jacob Stockdale named 2018 BBC Sport Northern Ireland Personality of the Year

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Ireland and Ulster star Jacob Stockdale reflects on award-winning 2018

Ulster and Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale has been named 2018 BBC Sport Northern Ireland Personality of Year.

Stockdale won the Six Nations player of the year award after his record seven tries helped Ireland clinch the Grand Slam in March.

After playing in Ireland's summer series win in Australia, Stockdale then notched the only try in Ireland's first-ever home win over New Zealand.

"It's massive honour and unexpected," said Stockdale of his BBC NI award.

In another tremendous year for Northern Ireland sport, Stockdale faced tough competition for the BBC Sport NI award as he edged out four-time World Superbike champion and 2017 winner Jonathan Rea and Ireland women's hockey hero Ayeisha McFerran.

"I'm incredibly thankful for getting picked. It's been a very fast moving year from start to finish but it's been really, really enjoyable," added Stockdale, 22.

"There have been a lot of big games in there that I feel really lucky to have been a part of."

BBC Northern Ireland head of sport Jane Tohill said the "historic nature of Jacob's remarkable exploits in 2018 set him apart".

Jacob Stockdale scores Ireland's third try in the win over England despite Mike Brown's efforts
Jacob Stockdale's record seven Six Nations tries including a touchdown in the closing win over England

'I thought I might squeeze on to Six Nations bench'

Despite scoring tries in Ireland's November wins over South Africa and Australia last year, Stockdale insisted that he started 2018 far from certain he would play a major role in the Six Nations.

"When I was setting out my goals for the season, I was just thinking in terms of maybe squeezing on to the bench.

"But obviously a few things went my way and I managed to start. Then, it was a matter of trying to play as well as I could in each game and hang on to the jersey for the next game."

Stockdale rounded off his sensational Six Nations campaign by notching one of Ireland's three tries as they secured the Grand Slam by beating England 24-15 at Twickenham.

The Ulster star then played in two of the three Tests down under as Ireland recovered from an opening defeat in Brisbane to secure a 2-1 series victory over the Wallabies.

Jacob Stockdale scores Ireland's crucial try in Ireland's first ever home win over the All Blacks last month
Jacob Stockdale's try was the crucial score in Ireland's first ever home win over the All Blacks last month

'Entire season led up to All Blacks game'

A hamstring injury kept Stockdale out of the opening weeks of this season but he helped Ireland beat Argentina on 10 November before scoring the crucial only touchdown as Joe Schmidt's team won the battle of the world's top two ranked sides a week later.

"It really just felt like our entire season was leading up to that [All Blacks] game," said Stockdale.

"There was so much pressure and so much expectation on us, it definitely made you nervous but I was incredibly excited about it."

As for his ultimately decisive try in the All Blacks game, Stockdale describes it as "instinct in a sense but still a very calculated play".

"That line-out play is set play with Johnny [Sexton] meant to get the ball and switch is back to Bundee [Aki]," recalled the wing.

"I kind of have to stand there not looking interested so nobody really notices me. Fortunately that worked out pretty well.

"All I remember thinking was seeing Ben Smith shoot up on Rory Best and knowing that because he wasn't there, there was a bit of kick space in behind.

"Once I knew I got the ball over [Brett] Retallick, it was just [a case of] get there and get there first. Luckily it sat up for me a bit and I got there first and I got over."