TEARS and cheers were the order of the day last Friday in Skibbereen when local rowing club members, brothers Paul and Gary O’Donovan, drained every ounce of their energy to win Ireland’s first ever medals in rowing at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, coached by Dominic Casey, whose all-consuming passion for rowing has seen him develop scores of national champions, along with several European and world champions, in over 25 years coaching at club level.
Never a man for the limelight, Dominic managed to keep his perpetual low profile intact even on the biggest stage in the world after this enormous achievement, but his protégés more than made up for their coach’s reticence with their off-the-water philosophising causing a feeding frenzy on both mainstream and social media and raising, not only their profiles, but that of the sport of rowing, which is very much a minority sport at the moment. But, as Paul famously declared after their silver medal-winning performance in the men’s lightweight double sculls final at Rio, we all have two arms and two legs and, if they could do it, there should be nothing to stop anyone else doing so either.
The irreverent duo certainly charmed and entertained the public with their hilarious media interviews in which they made light of their enormous achievements as they shared the simple philosophy behind what they do and how they go about it: Going from A to B as fast as they possibly can.
A number memorable quotes from the O’Donovan brothers have found their way into the lexicon and on to t-shirts and will forever be associated with them as they knocked great ‘craic’ out of their high media profile during the Olympic Games to lighten things up in the midst of the hard work and discipline involved in their strict training regime. They were lucky that the Irish rowing authorities made an exception in their case to allow them to have their own club coach as their international mentor and Dominic Casey was with them more or less full-time for the past six months, so whatever shenanigans they were up to in the media, he saw to it that they were brought quickly back to earth and remained focussed on the job at hand.
To be fair to Paul and Garry, their selfless dedication to the cause – fostered initially on the Ilen River by their father, Teddy – would have made Dominic Casey’s job that bit easier. One cannot reach this level of achievement without a huge amount of hard work and the O’Donovans have that ethic and a willingness to keep learning and improving because the margins between victory and defeat are tiny in the top strata of world sport; they finished only half a second behind the hotly-fancied French crew that took the gold medals.
Their success in Rio has provided a massive morale boost for Skibbereen, West Cork and the whole of Ireland. Skibbereen is brimming with pride in the O’Donovans’ achievement and this reflects a new-found confidence in a town that has enjoyed a busy summer season, has got its long-promised flood relief works up and running at last and is about to see its spanking new community school open at the end of this month.
For Skibbereen Rowing Club, the success is absolutely massive. Founded in 1970, this year it became the club that has won the most national titles in Irish rowing history, climbing to a massive 163 – eleven ahead of its nearest rival, Neptune in Dublin, which has been around a lot longer. As we watched the Rio success of Paul and Gary O’Donovan, we were struck by the emotion of the occasion for the handful of people who have kept the club going through thick and thin over the years, as the tears of joy flowed unashamedly. It just meant so much and it couldn’t have happened to nicer or more deserving people.
There will be more emotional scenes when Paul, Gary and Dominic return in triumph to Skibbereen at the start of September as the town shows them its appreciation. The brothers have been great role models for all aspiring sportspeople – and stand-up comedians! Lisheen legends indeed.