IT has been one incredible week for West Cork sports people in Japan. The arrival of two gold and one bronze medals into Skibbereen this weekend was a huge boost for the area.
And the success could not have come at a better time for Ireland.
It’s been a tough two years and we all needed the type of positivity that these wonderful young men and women gave the nation last week.
As well as the outright winners, there were many more who gave us hours of entertainment, whatever the outcome, on such a magnificent world stage.
We were long enough waiting for the ‘Tokyo Olympics 2020’ to come around and it didn’t disappoint.
Although many of our athletes were upset not to bring home medals, they should all remember that getting to participate in an Olympics is still an incredible achievement, reserved for only the most elite of sports people.
And for those who did manage to reign supreme over their rivals, they will never truly realise the sense of pride and joy they brought to the rest of us.
It was a difficult year for them to participate – without family support close by, with no spectators to speak of, and unable to properly socialise with their peers from other countries.
And so their accomplishments are all the more special this time.
To see the smiles on the faces of the small crowds that lined the streets of Skibbereen last Sunday night was a sight to behold.
And the delight of the occasion was obvious, too, on the faces of Emily Hegarty and Fintan McCarthy, during their short drive through the town, with their medals proudly held out for everyone to see.
Fintan said later that bringing his medal back home and enjoying meeting the locals was one of the highlights of the week for him!
And while our rowers certainly got their ‘results’ in Tokyo, the real achievement of these committed sports people will reverberate for many years to come.
In the same way that the success of Paul and Gary O’Donovan in Rio in 2016 led to a huge increase in interest in their sport in West Cork, so will Fintan, Paul and Emily’s medals this year enthuse a whole new group of young rowers.
Not forgetting Aoife Casey – who came eighth in the world, and Phil Healy’s incredible perfomances in three events, and competing in the relay finals.
But rowing certainly reigned supreme.
One mother spoke this week of her young children building a cardboard rowing boat where they could sit and watch the Skibbereen rowers’ race.
Others told of their children asking where they could learn to row.
There is no doubt that Skibbereen has played no small part in the revival of this incredibly difficult but ultimately graceful sport.
But Skibbereen Rowing Club has thrived against all the odds. The stories of makeshift equipment and Dominic Casey’s homemade training aids are legendary by now, and this week Paul and Gary’s mother Trish O’Donovan made the point that she had to fork out €75 just for rowing outfits for each of her sons when they were juveniles, while they watched the British rowers being backed by major name sponsors.
Skibbereen’s rowers are now in the big time – first class sports people able to hold their heads high with the best in the world. In fact, two of them ARE the best in the world.
And there are more coming up behind them – ready to bid for their crowns.
Our government must stop treating first class sports people like third class citizens – expecting their families and communities to continually put their hands into their own pockets to support them.
There was no shortage of politicians in Skibbereen on Monday night for the reception for our medallists.
They will have seen for themselves the modest training ground that has managed to create these magnificent warriors of the water.
It’s high time they backed up the speeches of congratulations and the accolades with sound financial support and significant funding schemes to keep those medals coming.