BY KIERAN McCARTHY
DENISE Walsh had a battle on her hands to secure a deserved silver medal at the European Rowing Championships and her latest battle was to wrestle her prized asset from the grasps of her father Tony earlier this week!
‘He keeps wanting to show people my medal!’ Denise laughed, but there’s no substitute for a father’s pride of his daughter who is rowing better now than ever before.
A big reason for that is that Denise (24) is, in her own words, a lot happier in her rowing this year and that’s translated to a silver medal at the Europeans to follow on from her silver medal at World Cup I in Belgrade earlier in May.
Making the decision to train at home in Skibbereen Rowing Club instead of at the National Rowing Centre has also worked wonders for her.
‘I’m a lot happier,’ she said.
‘I’m home a lot more training and that helps. It would be fine if you are in a double but it can get lonely in a single so that’s why it’s nice to be around home; there’s a good buzz here.
‘Dominic (Casey, Rowing Ireland High Performance coach) understands how to get the best out of us, I can tell him how I am feeling so if I’m tired I can back off, so it’s a very relaxed set-up that’s bringing the best out of everyone – you can see that in the results.
‘I feel like I am rowing better because I am more relaxed. I’m enjoying it more, too.’
It’s been a tough few years for Denise who back in 2015 was in the Irish women’s lightweight double with Claire Lambe from Dublin, and the target was the 2016 Olympic Games. But, as events transpired, Denise missed out on experiencing Rio last August with Sinead Jennings taking her seat in the double and this duo qualifying for the Games.
The past is the past, Denise says, and she is now looking to the future. The big target is winning a seat in the Irish lightweight double for the Tokyo Olympics and while a lot of water will be rowed before then, she now has two medals this season to back up her credentials and strengthen her case as the top female single sculler in the country right now.
Her performance in the European A final last Sunday morning in Racice, Czech Republic was stunning, as she came from fifth at the halfway mark and fourth with 500 metres to go before powering to a superb silver medal.
Sweden’s Emma Fredh won gold but Denise’s powerful finish in the final quarter saw her surge past Switzerland’s Patricia Merz who had taken the early lead.
‘The semi-final on Saturday was hard, to be honest. Everyone said I looked quite comfortable but it was actually quite tough. I wasn’t too sure what would happen in the final, I could have come last or come first but I’m glad I got a medal,’ Denise said.
‘I finished fourth last year at the Europeans, I was just edged out of a medal but I know I am going faster this year so it was nice to get a medal this time.
‘In the end, the last 20 strokes in the final, I felt tense.’
Taking an alternative twist on ‘blessed art thou amongst women’, for Denise it was ‘blessed art thou amongst Skibb men’, as she was the only woman on the Irish team at the European Championships last weekend after Sanita Puspure pulled out due to sickness.
Well used to her Skibbereen Rowing Club friends Paul and Gary O’Donovan, Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan, Denise is more than able to handle all four, and adds it helps that they all know each other so well.
‘It was grand when Sanita was there but when she went away, I was like “Oh God, I’m going to be by myself with them!”’ she laughed.
‘In fairness, they’re very good.
‘The time flew by as well. By the time you train, have lunch, have a little nap, go training again, have dinner, the day has passed by. They were very supportive.
‘When we were away in the training camp before the Europeans for two and a half weeks, it seems like you’re training at home and that makes you feel more relaxed,’ she said.
‘It’s nice to have people around you that you can talk to, too.’
What’s also nice is that Denise has landed her first major medal, a European silver. Now all she has to do is get it back off her father Tony!