Battle of the Skibb brothers for places in lightweight boat is good news for Ireland
BY KIERAN McCARTHY
TIMMY Harnedy knows what it’s like to lose his seat in a medal-winning boat – and he insists Gary O’Donovan has time on his side to win his place back in the Irish men’s lightweight double.
At World Rowing Cup III in Rotterdam this weekend, there is a new pairing in the Irish double after world champions Paul and Gary O’Donovan were split up.
Instead, Paul will be partnered by Fintan McCarthy, one half of the twins from Aughadown who have enjoyed an impressive season so far.
It means that Gary and Jake (Fintan’s twin) will race in the non-Olympic class lightweight singles in The Netherlands, as the two sets of Skibbereen brothers push each other to earn possession of the two seats in the Olympic-class lightweight double.
Right now, it’s Paul and Fintan in the boat.
‘It’s good news for Ireland because we have a number of combinations now that can win the world championships. That’s quite rare with any country,’ explains Skibbereen Olympic rower Timmy Harnedy.
‘Obviously we haven’t seen what Fintan and Paul can produce but I suspect it will be very quick.
‘We are in a position now where we could have four different combinations that can win the world championships. That’s something that we haven’t had before.’
In 2003 Harnedy was in the Irish lightweight four, along with another Skibb rower Eugene Coakley, that qualified for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Just a few months out from the Games Harnedy was replaced by the experienced Niall O’Toole in the boat and he didn’t have time to win his seat back. He travelled to Athens as a reserve.
The difference here, Harnedy says, is that Gary will have the chance to get back in the lightweight double.
Whether that’s before the world championships next month that double up as an Olympic qualification regatta, it’s hard to know, especially if Paul and Fintan go well in Rotterdam this weekend. But if the lightweight double does qualify for Tokyo 2020, then Gary will know he has the chance to get back in the boat.
‘When I lost my seat it was at the last minute, a few months out from the Olympics. There was nothing I could do about that because there was no opportunity to get back in. But Gary will have an opportunity to get back in the boat,’ Harnedy explains.
‘He has been knocked out of the double but he is a reigning world champion, he has been European champion and he has so many successes behind him so there is no question that he is the athlete that he is. It’s very much in his hands as to what he can do but he has time as well.
‘While he will be disappointed, he shouldn’t panic. He will come away and think, “okay, I didn’t have a great season, I got injured and I lost my seat but I have plenty of opportunities to do all the right things”.
‘From talking to him, he is quite positive and he is doing all the right things. He can be absolutely sure that the door is not closed to him. It would be different if it was this time next year but now he still has the opportunities to win his seat back so a lot of this is in his hands.’
It’s been a frustrating season for Gary who injured his wrist on a training camp in New Zealand earlier this year and that meant he missed months of training and he wasn’t at peak form like he would have liked.
Meanwhile, Fintan and Jake (22) were closing the gap on their illustrious club-mates. They won bronze in the lightweight double at the Piediluco International Regatta in April, they came fifth in the A final at the Europeans in May (Paul didn’t compete, Gary raced in the single) and Fintan also got the better of Gary in the men’s single at the Skibbereen regatta at Inniscarra.
But while Olympic medallist Gary is out of the boat now, Harnedy points to last year’s world championships when Gary and Paul won gold. So high has the bar been raised by the O’Donovan brothers since 2016, to be considered an elite rower, you need to medal.
‘You could look at Gary’s position and say he is on the back foot because he is out of the boat. But on the flipside you could say that any result worse than a gold medal, and a convincing gold medal at the worlds, with Fintan in the boat is a step back than with Gary in the boat,’ Harnedy opined.
‘The status quo is that the boat with Gary in it are world champions. Whoever goes in now and if they don’t win a gold medal, then they won’t have achieved what Gary and Paul did, so in some respects the pressure is a little bit on Fintan to win in that double.
‘From Gary’s point of view, if the double does win with him not in it he will be thinking how does he now get back into it. He’ll feel a little powerless in that sense. He is racing in a single this week so there is a certain amount of power in his hands because he can get a good result, prove that he has pushed on from the Europeans and hopefully impress in that boat.
‘There will be opportunities there for him. There will be more trials, without a shadow of a doubt. While he is disappointed to not be in the boat now, by no means is this settled yet.’
With Dominic Casey as the coach to the Irish lightweights and an intriguing battle of the brothers keeping everyone on their toes, Paul and Fintan have the two prized seats now, but Gary and Jake will push them hard in the coming weeks and months.