MARK O’Donovan fully believed that Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy would power their way to Olympic gold and glory.
A former World and European champion in the men’s lightweight pair, the Skibbereen oarsman knows Paul and Fintan well; Paul even more so as they were part of the same Ireland lightweight training group for years.
Mark, no relation to Paul, knows how much has been invested in this journey, from those early days on the Ilen River to those early mornings at the National Rowing Centre in Inniscarra. This gold is the culmination of years of hard work – and it all came down to one race, the A final at the Olympics.
‘Well, the lads broke a world record (in the semi-finals) and so were obviously on top form,’ Mark told Off The Ball AM.
‘It was great to see because after all the years of training, it is very hard to know, will the performance go down or will things go stale? It was very clear that the two lads, and not just Paul, were on top form.
‘Fintan has always been tipping away. He is a phenomenal athlete and has a great engine. A lovely personality and lovely character, but it is all about performance. He has been so good over the past few years that he was able to kick an Olympic silver medallist out of the boat, and Paul’s brother. You could almost say that you would favour your family member more than anyone, but Fintan was so much better that he got into the boat (on merit).
‘The best man came up trumps all those times so hat’s off to Fintan because that boat is highly competitive. As we saw, they needed the two best men to be in the boat because it was such a demanding race.’
Mark is well placed, as a student of the sport and a man with a solid collection of international medals, to explain what makes the Paul and Fintan combination just so good.
‘They are phenomenal athletes; have great engines and you need great physiology to be anywhere in their league. Getting into an A or B final, you need great physiology. Everything else is then the determining factor,’ Mark explained.
‘Their timing of actually feeling and rowing the boat is phenomenal. A lot of technical rowing coaches wouldn’t like Paul’s rowing style. Even Dominic (Casey) would be giving out to him all the time and then Paul would argue why it is better. It is more about the feeling of it, being in tune with the rhythm of it and the water. Then, also, being in sync with each other. It doesn’t matter what it looks like as long as it is fast.’
And the Irish boat was fast when it mattered in the last quarter of the Olympic final as the German duo of Jonathan Rommelmann and Jason Osborne pushed the Skibb men all the way to the line.
‘Paul and Fintan didn’t leave any room for error. Thankfully, it all went to plan. It was so tight. I just couldn’t believe that they could pull half a boat length over 200 to 250 metres. That’s phenomenal power from the two lads. Of course, the Germans were going to go out hard and try to get on top of the Irish and it really did work but thankfully, the better crew won,’ Mark said.