Physiology has played a big role in the rise of Skibbereen’s latest European rowing champs, Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll, as KIERAN McCARTHY explains
IT doesn’t take Shane O’Driscoll long to pinpoint the training session that pushed him right to the brink.
His mind jumps back to Seville in January, away on an Irish training camp.
On this particular day Shane (24) and his lightweight pair partner Mark O’Donovan (28), two Skibbereen men that would become European champions five months later, rowed right to the limit.
‘Two kilometres is our race distance. We did ten of them back to back. It was a lower intensity than racing, the session took about two hours and it was very hard,’ Shane said.
‘You’d learn a lot from sessions like that,’ adds Mark.
‘On every second one we were getting our lactic acid levels done by the physiologist so we had some markers on the session. We had heart monitors on so everything was measured. When you monitor your training you can start looking at the different variables.
‘We have some very good physiologists and we believe in what they tell us. If you’re not in the right intensity it doesn’t matter how you’re rowing. It plays a big part in it.’
The appliance of (sports) science has played a part in their recent success, that gold medal in the opening Rowing World Cup regatta in Belgrade and the European gold that followed in the Czech Republic.
A strength and conditioning coach himself, Mark is better placed than most to talk about how physiology has helped the duo moved from seventh in the world in 2015 to fourth in the world last year and last month win European gold.
‘If we were a car our heart and lungs would be our engine,’ he explained.
‘The more we train our body the more we’re going to develop it.
‘If we’re driving around in a two-litre instead of a one-litre there will obviously be a bit more shove in the two-litre when we need it.
‘With endurance training you have to stress the body more and more to get adaption; it’s the simple training of adaption, really. The harder you push it the more it will bounce back and repeat what you’ve done when you need it to.’
Shane and Mark have pushed it harder than before over these last few months and the results have echoed that.
Their 2016 performances gave them a solid base and they’ve pushed it on.
Working with Niamh Ní Cheilleachair and Antonia Rossiter in the Institute of Sport has benefitted the duo, and all the Irish rowers in the high performance set-up.
‘There’s more to come,’ Mark said.
‘To me it feels like I am pushing on harder in every session, it’s just to get me in the right zone so that whatever lactic acid I am producing that I’m clearing it at the same rate so I can keep going at a high intensity.’
Shane explains that their training rose to a new level over the winter. There were more miles, more intensity, improved recovery and nutrition, and more advice from the physiologists.
‘It’s quality and quantity, really,’ he said.
‘It’s a gradual process, too. Between yesterday and today I wouldn’t have changed much. Between last week and today I wouldn’t have changed much. But between six months ago and today I would have changed and improved a lot.’
At last week’s Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star Award presentation Shane, Mark and Denise Walsh (who won silver at the European Rowing Championships) were honoured with May awards.
Before Shane left home in Kilkilleen for the short drive to the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery, his mother Mary asked him a question.
‘Did you ever think you’d be a European champion?’
His reply: ‘I did, ya, but I didn’t think it would take this long. I’m 24!’
Shane has been rowing a long time and watched on as Eugene and Richard Coakley, Timmy Harnedy and his close friends, Gary and Paul O’Donovan, all rubbed shoulders with the world’s best at the highest level.
Two years ago at the overall West Cork Sports Star Awards gala night in January he represented Gary and Paul, who were away on a training camp.
‘I remember saying to Diarmuid (O’Driscoll) that night, “I’d love to win one of these”’, Shane said.
‘I was amazed by the talent in West Cork. You don’t realise it until it’s in front of you.
‘This is something I always wanted to win, but I knew I’d have to do something very impressive to get a monthly award. The bar is set very high.’
Winning a European gold brought Shane, and Mark, the West Cork Sports Star Awards they wanted.
Another box ticked.
Shane and Mark are targeting their third gold medal of the year when they compete at World Cup II this weekend (15th-18th) in the men’s lightweight pair in Poznan, the second of the three World Cup regattas.
Denise Walsh (lightweight single) and the O’Donovan brothers (lightweight double) will be there, as will Sanita Puspure, Monika Dukarska, Aileen Crowley and Aifric Keogh.
‘It’s ours to lose,’ Shane said.
‘It won’t make much of a difference who we’re against. We always go out to win.
‘We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. We’ll still respect that it will be bloody hard.
‘People will come at us but we’ll be ready.
‘Being European champions is great, there are a lot of good rowers in Europe but we know too that they’re a lot of good rowers outside of Europe who will be in the next world cup and the one after and the world championships so we need to be ready for that.’
Confidence is high, as Shane adds: ‘We went from fourth in the world to this in the space of one month.’
September’s world championships in Florida are still the main target.
The Friday after they won gold at the European Rowing Championships, Mark’s older and only brother, Sean, married Marie Donegan from Ballydehob.
The church was in Ballydehob with the reception in the Fernhill House Hotel in Clonakilty.
But there was no chance that West Cork’s newest European champion could fade into the background.
‘The priest got everyone to give me a round of applause at the church,’ Mark laughed.
‘But Sean wouldn’t mind that at all, he’s over the moon altogether with the gold medal and getting married!
‘Anyway he got a photo with Shane and myself on the day so he was delighted!’
Another medal in Poznan would go down a treat.
‘They went on honeymoon to Mauritius and some other places ... Christ, you’d think I’d remember where ... somewhere warm, I’d say.’
Given his recent adventures this momentary lapse will be forgiven.