ORLA Hayes knows how to win titles at the Irish Rowing Championships. The experienced Skibbereen rower has already amassed 15, her first back in 2000 in a women’s junior quad, but she’s not finished yet
Hayes is entered in the stacked women’s senior single that includes three recent Olympians – Lydia Heaphy, Margaret Cremen and Monika Dukarska – but her main focus at this weekend’s nationals is the women’s intermediate double with Kate O’Brien on Saturday morning.
‘It’s the intermediate double, really,’ Hayes outlines, ‘and the senior single is a back up.’
Joking that she’ll need ‘divine inspiration’ if she lines up in the senior single on Sunday morning, Hayes adds, ‘If I I do end up going in it you would appreciate being in a race like that, surrounded by Olympians.’
Hayes (36) is a club legend in her own right, having snaffled up all those national titles and also representing Ireland numerous times as well. As well as rowing these days, she’s helping out coaching when she can. It’s important to give back.
‘There is a real sense of togetherness in the club. You feel you can give back in some way and share your experience a little,’ Hayes explains, pointing to Denise Walsh as the example of someone giving back to the club.
Walsh is a former European silver medallist and a World finalist, and these days she is heavily involved as a coach at Skibbereen Rowing Club, helping the juniors on their journey.
‘In a year like this with Dominic (Casey) being away so much, the next best thing is having someone like Denise there who was coached by Dominic and who knows the club inside out. We’ve been involved in the club for a long time now and we try to pass on what experience we have,’ Hayes explains. Add in Richie Keating and Emily Dulohery, too, and Skibb has a strong stable of coaches to guide the club’s younger members.
In recent weeks Finn O’Reilly won a silver medal at the World U23s, Lauren McCarthy Steele brought home a silver from the Coupe de la Jeunesse and Oisin Boyle was in action at the World Junior Championships. Factor in, too, that six rowers from the club went to the Olympics and their success in Tokyo – Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy won gold, Emily Hegarty brought home bronze – and these are good times for Ireland’s most successful rowing club.
‘There’s a bit of momentum there now and a real buzz around the club these weeks,’ Hayes says. ‘You have a coach like Denise who has rowed at world level and is passing on her advice, and now we have Finn, who has just won a world medal, and he is rowing with younger lads. Lauren is in the junior women’s boats, Oisin will be back in too. That will inspire everyone else.’
Hayes herself is inspiring others too and has done for years. Olympic medallist Emily Hegarty has namechecked Hayes and Walsh as two of her rowing heroes growing up. She’s still rowing because she enjoys it. It’s still fun, even more so ahead of the national championships as the club looks to add to its record 181 titles. Hayes hopes to add to the list this weekend.
• The 2021 Irish Rowing Championships will take place at the National Rowing Centre from Friday, 20th to Sunday, 22nd. There are 55 categories with 503 crews entered for the weekend.
While a number of Skibb rowers will be in UCC colours (Paul O’Donovan, Emily Hegarty, Lydia Heaphy and Aoife Casey) at this weekend’s Irish Rowing Championships, Skibbereen Rowing Club is still sending a strong squad to Inniscarra.
Olympic gold medallist Fintan McCarthy, 2016 Olympic silver medallist Gary O’Donovan and Jake McCarthy will all fly the Skibbereen flag as the club looks to rubberstamp their position as the best rowing club in the country.
Currently, they top the table with 181 titles.