OLYMPIC bronze medallist Emily Hegarty hopes the historic success of the Irish women’s four can inspire the next generation to follow in their footsteps.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Mohonagh Marvel Hegarty and her team-mates – Fiona Murtagh, Eimear Lambe and Aifric Keogh – surged to Ireland’s first medal, a magnificent bronze, at these Olympics in Tokyo.
In doing so, they have entered the history books. This is the country’s second-ever Olympic rowing medal, following on from the breakthrough success of Gary and Paul O’Donovan at the Rio Games in 2016.
They are also the first Irish women’s crew to win an Olympic medal after they powered to a terrific third place in a thrilling women’s four A final on the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo.
They are also only the second-ever Ireland women’s crew to compete in an Olympic final.
‘It’s a bit surreal, to be honest,’ Skibbereen rower Emily Hegarty (22), from Aughadown, told RTÉ afterwards.
‘It’s something for the future and hopefully this will be the first of many. Hopefully this will give the young girls coming up real hope and show that it’s completely possible. If we can do it, then anyone can.’
Galway woman Aifric Keogh added: ‘We all saw Gary and Paul win a medal in Rio (in 2016), probably none of us thought we would be here at the next Olympics, but it has shown what is possible.’
This was a stunning performance by the Irish women’s four that has been making waves all season. They finished second at the 2021 European Rowing Championships, behind The Netherlands, in April before booking their ticket to Tokyo by winning the final Olympic qualification regatta in Lucerne in May.
A tight-knit group, they have maintained that impressive momentum through to the Games – and all their hard work has paid off in sensational style.
After finishing second in their heat last weekend, 0.23 of a second behind the fancied Australian four, hopes were high of a medal in Wednesday’s A final – but the Irish boat was made work hard for their moment of glory.
Fourth after 500 metres, Ireland had slipped to fifth by the halfway mark, with the Australians and European champions The Netherlands already out in front and battling for gold, while Great Britain and China were both ahead of Ireland, with Poland in fifth.
Then came the Irish four’s powerful surge in the second half of this Olympic final – and it will live long in the memory.
‘We knew we had a chance going into it, definitely. We had a rocky start and we definitely didn’t make it easy for ourselves, but we just didn’t give up,’ Eimear Lambe said.
‘I think everyone else’s strategy was to put as much distance between us and them as they could at the start, but we are a very aerobic crew so the second kilometre would usually be our strong point. Even though we were down we knew we could back ourselves.’
The Irish women’s four dug deep to drag themselves back into contention and with 500 metres to go they were in fourth spot and hunting down Great Britain in the lane beside them. Inside the last 500 metres, Hegarty and Co pushed past Great Britain and into the medal places, and they pushed on.
Up ahead, Australia (6:15.37) just edged out The Netherlands (6:15.71) for gold, and following home in third was the fast-moving Irish boat (6:20.46) that left Great Britain (6:21.52) behind with China and Poland following in fifth and sixth.
‘We knew we could win a medal and it was just could we pull it off. Every crew in the race was capable of winning a medal so it was about who could get down the course as fast as they could in these conditions,’ Aifric Keogh said.
This is an historic moment for Irish rowing, and Irish women’s rowing, and can inspire the next generation in the same manner that Gary and Paul’s Olympic silver in 2016 helped to transform Irish rowing.
‘We might never experience anything like this again, it’s a case of enjoying it and living it,’ Emily Hegarty added – and so they should. Hegarty, Murtagh, Lambe and Keogh have written their names into Irish sporting history.