First and foremost, it feels great to be back, not that I was giving up on my passion but commitment elsewhere had forced me to make some really tough sacrifices. Kawowo Sports is one place I and a few other colleagues will always call family, no wonder Joseph Owino didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes’ when I told him I would love to start a weekly sports column.
And I want to start this new journey by sharing my thoughts on what I think about Cranes captain and shot stopper, Denis Onyango, who in my opinion is by far Uganda’s biggest sporting export. At least for the last five years in a country that in the same time has produced other athletes who have gone out there and broken barriers at the big stage.
A Stephen Kiprotich comes to mind, his Gold Medal at the London Olympics in 2012 followed by another in Moscow at the World Athletics Championships a year later were ,without a doubt, remarkable feats. Even David Emong, the Paralympics runner who won Uganda’s first ever medal (silver) at the 2016 Paralympics Games in Rio de Janeiro might have a big a case to front.
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The following year in London, the 1500M T46 runner bagged gold at the 8th World Para-Athletics Championships in London. And I might be skinned alive by my colleagues who actually regard Moses Kipsiro a living legend in the Pearl of Africa. The 31-year-old won gold in both the 5000m and 10,000m at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Dehli, he defended the 10,000m four years later in Glasgow.
But the thing is, the makers of those memories don’t live long enough at the big stage — the reason they are easily forgotten. Onyango is a different case all together, even if he has achieved less compared to what Kiprotich, Kipisro, Emong and others have, what the former has been able to achieve on the Africa continent is immense.
What many of us forget is that Onyango’s determination and perseverance in South Africa, a place where so many of his countrymen have failed is the reason his star continues to shine to date. On Thursday, he narrowly lost to Moroccan Ayman Majid — he was third after a social media poll also behind Ayman Mathlouthy of Tunisia as CAF named the best XI players on the continent at their annual awards.
But the Cranes captain collected 50% of the 6605 votes cast on twitter by fans across the continent and beyond. Actually what makes Onyango’s case even more special was a tweet by one football fan from one for those Maghreb countries who confessed that ‘I might be an Arab but Onyango was the best goalkeeper of 2017.’
That’s a confession of someone who has followed, seen and appreciated this Musamya from Eastern Uganda (not western Kenya), and without a doubt there are many more who voted for Onyango along the same values. By the way, probably he achieved little with his club Mamelodi Sundowns last year and didn’t see Uganda past the group stages of the AFCON finals in Gabon, a stage Uganda was appearing for the first time since 1978.
But that doesn’t mean he has not been outstanding for club and country, Onyango’s performance nearly saw Uganda knock on the doors of the 2018 World Club finals. And I remember comments like ‘Onyango is unlucky to play for a country like Uganda’. Again that was coming from an Egyptian fan after the Cranes fell 1-0 to the Pharaohs in Alexandria.
First Ugandan to win the CAF Champions League, first Ugandan to play at the FIFA World Club Cup and first footballer to win the Uganda Sports Press Association Footballer of the Year for since Polly Ouma did in 1974.
And do I need to remind you that Onyango is the first Ugandan in history to win an individual CAF Award (African Player of the Year based in Africa) and probably the last in history to win the award. He is also on the verge of guiding Uganda to a second straight AFCON appearance.
In his 30s, Onyango should be in the evening of his career but by the look of things, he is just starting and he is not about to stop.