BY KIERAN McCARTHY
ON these very sports pages in March Mark O’Donovan described himself as a little more insane than your average rower – but there’s nothing mad about his latest statement.
Standing in the boathouse at Skibbereen Rowing Club on Monday, alongside his crewmate, housemate and friend, Shane O’Driscoll, Mark boldly predicted that bigger glories lie ahead of the current Irish lightweight pair.
It’s the day after they won gold at the European Rowing Championships in the Czech Republic, their first major international triumph together, and the Skibb duo are ready to take on the world.
In fact, the world rowing championships in Florida in September offers the chance of world gold but before that they have two more World Cup regattas, in Poznan and Lucerne.
‘We’ve been together a few years but this is by far the biggest race we’ve won. We were fourth at the worlds and the Europeans last year so now to finally win the gold, and by a good margin, is quite a success for us, Skibbereen and Ireland all in the one,’ Mark said.
‘There’s more to come. I think it will be very hard for another crew in the world to beat us. I know that’s a bold statement but we’re confident enough to say that.’
Shane looks across at Mark and gives a nod of approval. He’s in agreement, and who’s going to argue with the Irish lightweight pair who also won gold at World Cup I (the first of that three-part series) in early May.
Confidence is high right now.
‘We were all month waiting for this day so when it came about we were ready to make the most of the opportunity. We both felt good,’ explained Shane, who, at 24 years old, is the youngest of the pair.
Mark has four years on Shane, as well as Gary O’Donovan and five years on Paul O’Donovan, so his wait for a major championship medal has lasted longer than the others.
‘I have an U23 world medal before (won in the Irish lightweight quad in 2010) but it’s been a few years since I was on a podium at a regatta. I have been waiting for this time for a long time and there is more to come so we can get used to it,’ Mark said.
Shane added: ‘Our confidence in racing and in our abilities is there. Mark is very good at the calls throughout the biggest regattas, he says go at the right time, that’s very important; he has the experience so I listen to him.’
This is their third season together in pair and they’re improving all the time – we saw that in Belgrade at the start of May and on Sunday at the Europeans, they destroyed the field with a powerful display.
Leading all the way through they finished two seconds ahead of the Russians at the finishing line, and back in the RTÉ studio after the race Neville Maxwell described it as the greatest performance he had seen in a pair.
‘That’s some statement to be coming out with but listen, we’re not going to knock the man down when he is talking about us,’ Mark smiled.
‘Personally I wouldn’t say it was our best performance. I can’t remember when that was but Sunday was the best outcome of course. It wasn’t our best performance but it was well up there.’
Shane jumped in: ‘We started off strong, we want to be aggressive from the start and we concentrated on our technique after that.
‘I saw after the race that we were on world record pace for the first 500 metres but those records are generally set in very fast conditions, and they weren’t very fast conditions last Sunday.
‘At least we know we’re well on it, that things are going well for us so we’re delighted with that.’
With Mark describing their relationship as ‘a happy marriage’, this happy couple is now targeting more medals in the months ahead.
‘We have the two World Cups first (Poznan and Lucerne in June) and we’ll focus on them first but the world championships at the end of the year will be the big one to look forward to.’
Mark has another reason to look forward to the worlds in Florida; it’s his chance to release his inner child in Disney World!
‘Of course we’ll be there! We’ll try and blend in a bit of a holiday if we can as well.’
But before he gets to take a selfie with Mickey Mouse and teach Donald Duck about the difference between the lightweight double and pair, Mark, and Shane, are keen to continue their early-season dominance.
You wouldn’t bet against them.