‘It's a kick in the teeth,' says former world champ after Skibb rowers lose crucial funding

February 16th, 2019 2:00 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Ireland's Shane O'Driscoll and Mark O'Donovan are hoping to qualify for the men's pair at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

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Skibb's Olympic rowing hopefuls will use their savings after losing funding


FORMER world rowing champions Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll will have to dip into their own savings to fund their Olympic dream.

The Skibbereen Rowing Club pair’s hopes of qualifying for the 2020 Games in Tokyo have suffered a serious setback after they lost their Sport Ireland International Carding Scheme funding.

In 2018, Mark and Shane both received €20,000 each, the second highest level of funding known as ‘World Class’, but there appears to be confusion regards whether or not the Skibb men met the criteria for the latest grants announced last week.

While Sport Ireland, when contacted by The Southern Star, said Shane and Mark didn’t meet the necessary criteria to be eligible for funding, the rowers are adamant that they were told they were eligible but not entitled.

‘We did meet criteria for the world class carding and it would have been €20,000 each. We understand that just because you are eligible, it doesn’t mean that you are entitled to it,’ Mark told The Southern Star.

‘It puts myself and Shane in a very hard position now. We don’t have a penny coming in, in what’s a very important year because it’s an Olympic qualification year.’

It appears the confusion is linked to Mark and Shane’s 16th place finish at the 2018 World Rowing Championships. To meet the criteria to become eligible for ‘World Class’ funding in the International Carding Scheme, rowers have to ‘place within the Olympic quota for boat class plus three places’.

The Olympic quota for the men’s pair is 13 boats – 11 which qualify this year at the Worlds and two through a qualification regatta next year. On that basis, that there will be 13 men’s pairs at the 2020 Olympics plus adding the three places, according to Sport Ireland criteria, Mark and Shane feel their 16th place at the 2018 Worlds makes them eligible for funding.

The Southern Star understands that Sport Ireland’s decision as to why Mark and Shane didn’t meet the criteria is based on them finishing outside the top 14, which seems to be the 11 boats that qualify from this year’s Worlds plus the three places. But the Olympic quota for the men’s pair is 13 boats when the two from the 2020 final qualification regatta are added. Also, a change to the Sport Ireland International Carding Scheme this year has seen grants awarded on a two-year basis rather than annually as has been the case, so if Mark and Shane were awarded funding, they’d also have it for 2020, effectively a much-needed €40,000 each over two years.

In 2017, Mark and Shane shot to national prominence when they powered to a sensational clean sweep at international level in the lightweight men’s pair. 

They won gold at the World Rowing Championships, the European Rowing Championships and the three World Rowing Cup regattas; they were the rowing story of that year. 

At the end of 2017, the popular Skibbereen duo switched from the non-Olympic class men’s lightweight pair to the Olympic-class men’s heavyweight pair, as they chase the dream of representing Ireland at the 2020 Olympics – but losing their Sport Ireland funding is a serious blow to the duo.

Both Mark and Shane have no other additional incomes so they will have to live off their own savings this year. 

They are also full-time students too – Mark is studying a Masters in Exercise Physiology and its Application in Therapy at NUIG and Shane is studying Construction Contracts, Law and Finance from Sligo IT.

While Rowing Ireland did receive an increase in funding compared to 2018, and that has been welcomed, Mark and Shane have lost out. There is an additional pool funding of €50,000 for targeted athletes in Rowing Ireland, but a number of rowers will have to share this. 

‘We are going to look into an appeals process. That will be hard. It seems like it’s a difficult process. But we have to. We have no choice,’ Mark explains.

‘This is a kick in the teeth for us.

‘Whatever savings I have will be eaten into very fast.

‘We are chasing a dream here. We feel we can qualify for an Olympics and we are working really hard every day – that’s why the funding is so important for us. It’s effectively our wage. It puts food on the table, petrol in the car to get us to and from training, it’s for our rent, and if we need to get clothes for rowing, any expenses that come with the sport, and it helps to cover the levies that all rowers have to pay to compete internationally for Ireland.’

Also, a third Skibbereen rower and another Olympic Games hopeful, Denise Walsh, was a notable absentee when Sport Ireland confirmed its funding for High Performance athletes. Denise, who received ‘World Class’ €20,000 funding in 2018, and Aoife Casey are bidding to qualify for next year’s Olympics in the women’s lightweight double.

Both Gary and Paul O’Donovan have retained their ‘Podium’ class funding of €40,000 each.


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