Before Denis Onyango received the 2016 Nile Special/Uganda Sports Press Association (Uspa) sports personality of the year award, he had been called to the podium on two occasions.
On his first climb to the magnificent stage, the Uganda Cranes goalkeeper and captain got a standing ovation from the guests at the Imperial Royale Hotel as journalists held their annual gala.
A popular choice, it was the first time any of the 44 award winners got invitees, entertained by musicians Geosteady and Irene Ntale, off their seats on Friday night. Onyango had been called to receive the Male Footballer of the Year plaque.
“Yes, sometimes I miss home but while I am away, it’s about work,” Onyango, dressed in a long traditional blue shirt and matching trousers, said when asked by the night’s emcee Andrew Kabuura about time spent away from home.
It would turn out to be a great night as he stepped into the light on three occasions. Befittingly, he became football’s first individual winner of the prestigious award since 1974. Ex-Cranes striker Polly Ouma, 74, was the last.
Already crowned Africa’s best player (based in Africa) back in January, it capped a splendid year for Onyango as Uganda Cranes also received the Team of the Year gong.
The Caf Champions League winner with South African side Mamelodi Sundowns also aided Uganda Cranes’ return to the Africa Cup of Nations after 39 years.
“I would like to thank my family; my wife and children with whom I spend most of the time in good and bad times who spend most of the time,” Onyango said.
This is the most settled Onyango has been in nearly two years as he received his diadem from Maj. Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the Senior Presidential Advisor for Special Operations.
“It was a challenging year with all the travel with Sundowns and Cranes. We had to travel a lot and played on different pitches, some of which weren’t good,” he said. “I thank my teammates. This award is for the team.”
Paralympic Silver medalist David Emong and rugby star Philip Wokorach, an African 7s champion, who shared the stage with Onyango, were more than pleased to make it to the top three.
Wokorach’s Rugby Cranes 7s team also got a ‘Team of the Year’ nomination on glamorous night where most guests got the ‘Made of Uganda’ theme by wearing traditional outfits.
Journalists also picked the National Open Pool Championship and Uganda Cricket Association as the best-run sporting event and federation respectively.
Other Uspa partners NSSF, Standard Chartered Bank, City Tyres, UBC TV and Sanlam Insurance were also applauded for their support.