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From Skibbereen to Sydney, rowing coach Richard Coakley makes his mark Down Under

April 17th, 2024 9:00 AM

By Kieran McCarthy

From Skibbereen to Sydney, rowing coach Richard Coakley makes his mark Down Under Image
Skibbereen's Richard Coakley (right) and fellow St Catherine's coach, Jarrod Watson (left) with the junior women's eight crew that won gold at the Australian Rowing Championships.

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PERHAPS it was inevitable that Olympic rower Richard Coakley would dip his oars – successfully – into coaching, considering he learned from the best, Dominic Casey.

It’s not stretching reality to join the dots between the Coakley-trained St Catherine’s School’s junior women’s eight crew that won gold at the recent Australian Rowing Championships and where it all began for the Skibbereen man: on the River Ilen following Casey’s training programme.

Anyone who has trained at Skibbereen Rowing Club under Casey will be familiar with his phrase ‘mileage makes champions’, and that’s a philosophy that Coakley (40) carried with him when he swapped Skibb for Sydney in 2011. The results are similar: success.

2008 Beijing Olympic rower Coakley, younger brother of Eugene who travelled to two Olympics (2000 and ’04), took his learnings from Skibb to Oz. It’s worth noting, too, that Richard once rowed for Australia at a 2014 World Cup regatta, but he soon began his own coaching career in Sydney. In 2018 he took over as the head of rowing at St Catherine's School in his new home city, and got to work. 

The school’s rowing programme was small, catering for around 20 girls, but Coakley saw the potential. He leaned on the blueprint for success that has seen Skibbereen Rowing Club grow into Ireland’s most successful rowing club – spearheaded by coach Casey – and implemented the same training programmes that saw him develop into an Olympic athlete. 

Success wasn’t immediate, but Coakley persevered, not afraid of hard work, and slowly St Catherine's became competitive. 

Skibbereen brothers Eugene and Richard Coakley in action for Ireland.


Within two years he tripled the number of rowers in the club, increasing options to pick from, and, like St Catherine's crews on the water, this picked up speed. At the 2023 Australian Rowing Championships Coakley’s junior women’s eight crew won a brilliant silver medal. That opened the door for the school to attend the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta in July 2023, another important marker.

Coakley and St Catherine’s hit a new height at last month’s national championships held at the Sydney International Regatta Centre – the junior women’s eight dominated their final from lane three, powering to a one-and-a-half length triumph to become Australian champions. 

Coakley, like Casey at home in Skibbereen, changed the culture and put in place a structure that has brought success and medals to the Sydney school. An indicator of Coakley’s influence is that, along with St Catherine's coach, Jarrod Watson, he was named the 2022/23 New South Wales Rowing Association Schoolgirl Coach of the Year. There’s also another Skibbereen Rowing Club link to St Catherine’s too, as former Skibb rower Diarmuid O’Driscoll, a childhood friend of Gary and Paul O’Donovan, is a part of Coakley’s coaching staff.

His success at the Australian championships is also a fitting way for Coakley to sign off as Richard, his fiancée Sophia and their son Liam (3) are moving to Sweden in the weeks ahead. 

Given former World Rowing Coach of the Year Casey’s success with Rowing Ireland’s all-conquering lightweights, in the future could we see the apprentice Coakley be reunited with the master Casey? Or will the Skibb man look to get involved in Swedish rowing? Armed with his Skibbereen rowing how-to-succeed guide, Coakley has the knowledge and work ethic to succeed.

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