BY KIERAN McCARTHY
FINTAN McCarthy is weeks into life as a full-time athlete.
Instead of juggling college and rowing, it’s the latter that will dominate his schedule for the next 12 months. There’s no stress from exams anymore as he is finished his four years as a physiology student at University College Cork.
Now, it’s just rowing stress from here until the 2020 Olympic Games.
‘This year will be full on to try and stay in the boat and get to Tokyo. It’s my first time being a full-time athlete. Maybe I will have to find some other distraction just to keep sane,’ the 22-year-old says.
If the last year was hectic, then the next will be intense. Fintan is one half of the Irish men’s lightweight double sculls – along with Paul O’Donovan – that won gold at the recent World Rowing Championships in Linz, Austria.
En route to the top of the world, they also qualified the boat for next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.
For O’Donovan, he’s been here before. He won Olympic silver at the 2016 Rio Games with his brother Gary. Paul is now a four-time world champion too.
For Fintan, this is all new. He only won his seat in the Irish lightweight double after trials in June, earning a place alongside Paul at the expense of Gary.
He has only raced at three senior international regattas in the lightweight double – the Europeans in May with his twin brother Jake where they finished fifth, World Cup III in Rotterdam in July with Paul and they won silver, and the Worlds in August with Paul when they powered to a dominant gold. It’s been a whirlwind few months.
The glory in Linz was celebrated, as it should be. He’s now a world champion and in recognition of that, Fintan was presented with a Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star Monthly Award for August. But that super Saturday when Fintan and Paul stormed to gold in the A final has been parked, now the focus is on next summer’s Olympics.
The target is to win gold in Tokyo but first Fintan needs to keep his place in the Irish boat. Gary is breathing down his neck and wants to get back in the double. There will be others too. ‘There are 45 weeks to go now and everyone is going to be pulling out all the stops. One, to get in the boat, and two, to win the gold,’ Fintan says.
‘There is good motivation there because everyone knows whatever boat goes has a really good chance of winning gold at the Olympics, and that’s the pinnacle.
‘No-one is going to give up their chance so it’s going to be brutal but that will bring out the best in all of us.’
Rowing Ireland is in a great position. It has at least four world-class rowers – Paul, Fintan, Gary and Jake – vying for two seats in thedouble. All combinations are strong. Any combination that includes Paul is stronger again. All four know each other well. They’re all from Aughadown outside Skibb, they have all come through Skibbereen Rowing Club, they all train under Dominic Casey, and they all have the same goal – to earn their seat in the boat for the Olympics.
‘Sometimes it can be intense leading into trials. Tensions are running high and that’s entirely natural, it’s like every other sport, but most of the time it’s really good because we’re pushing each other on,’ Fintan says.
‘There is a bit of competitiveness obviously but this is a good environment to be in because everyone is pushing for the same goal.’
Fintan didn’t take too much of a break from the water after the world championships. They say, for every one week off the water, it takes three to catch back up, and he knows he needs to improve if he wants to fend off all challengers and keep his spot alongside Paul.
‘I have to drive on. I have never been one to rest on my laurels anyway. There is always room to improve and get faster, and none of us are as fast as Paul. If we want to be the best in the world we need to get a bit closer, at least,’ he explains.
‘Individually, I can improve and that will make the boat faster. I am not at Paul’s level yet, none of us are, but if we can get closer to that level then there will be no stopping anyone really.
‘We (Paul and Fintan) can go faster. Rowing together, it has been pretty good so far. Some people can pick out little technical things but at the end of the day we were still going fast.’
The early signs are encouraging for Fintan. His two regattas with Paul in the double yielded world gold and World Cup silver, and their performance in the A final at the Worlds was stunning, surging from sixth to destroy the field.
Fintan will take a lot of confidence from the past few months.
‘Before the Worlds there was a lot of uncertainty, even when I was trying to get in the boat. I knew that I could get in but there was uncertainty because Gary is such an unreal athlete,’ he explains.
‘I never think it will be okay. I am always trying to make sure I am the absolute fastest. This year I want to stay in that mind-set, just to make sure that I am as fast as I can be all the time.
‘With each race at the World championships I was getting less and less nervous and more calm.
‘I could call on what I did in the previous race that worked and then I knew we’d be alright and in with a strong chance of winning.’
Fintan has developed faster on the water in recent months than even he imagined and he knows he needs to stay on an upward curve heading into the heavy training the winter promises and demands. Bring it on, he says. It will make him fitter, stronger and faster.
Somehow we feel he doesn’t need any distractions to take his mind off rowing for the year ahead, he’ll soak up life as a full-time athlete and emerge even better. That’s good news for Ireland’s gold medal hopes.