BY KIERAN McCARTHY
JOE O’Leary is targeting a fourth All-Ireland title next year – and drawing level with his legendary sister, Jennifer.
The Barryroe man – a butcher in Barryroe Co-Op – was on the Courtmacsherry Rowing Club senior men’s team that won gold at the All-Ireland coastal rowing finals held in Waterville, Co Kerry in August.
Club captain of the Courtmac club, Joe was presented with the Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star award for August at a ceremony last week.
It means that Joe and his twin brother Damien now both have three All-Ireland coastal rowing gold medals, and, in sporting terms, they are only one behind their sister, former Cork camogie great Jennifer, who won four All-Irelands with the Rebels.
With family bragging rights up for grabs, a fourth All-Ireland gold next year would see Joe and Damien draw level with Jennifer. Game on, Joe laughs.
‘If the lads are willing to go I’ll certainly be available next year. It would be nice to retain the title but that’s easier said than done,’ Joe said.
Joe and Damien and crewmates Daniel Whelton and Denis Griffin and cox Fiona Hurley were a class apart at this year’s All-Irelands, not only winning gold but also bringing the Outstanding Senior Crew of the All-Ireland award back to Courtmac. The club won four All-Ireland titles that weekend, and this Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star award is the cherry on the icing of a particularly tasty cake.
‘It’s great recognition for the club and the team – winning three All-Irelands in five years is a great achievement,’ O’Leary said.
‘It’s great for the sport too to get recognised with an award like this because coastal rowing wouldn’t be regarded as a big sport but it’s still very popular here in West Cork. Anyone who starts it usually sticks with it. They get hooked on it. That’s what happened to us.’
Joe and Damien started their coastal rowing adventure in May 2010, rowing for Courtmac’s junior men’s crew, and in their first year they finished fourth in the All-Ireland. They were, as Joe says, hooked.
They competed at senior level from 2011 on, packed up the GAA, and concentrated entirely on coastal rowing. The results have followed – three All-Ireland senior men’s gold medals in five years.
This year’s triumph was especially sweet, as Joe (33) explains.
‘It gets tougher every year so any year you win, you treasure it and enjoy it,’ said Joe, who is married to Mags.
‘We were very disappointed last year with how the All-Irelands unfolded in Waterville. Conditions weren’t very favourable and we didn’t have a hope with the lane we were in. Killorglin had a more favourable lane and they won the race by 30 seconds, but that shouldn’t happen in reality.
‘It was nice to get back this year and get the win.’
Highlighting the social aspect of coastal rowing as one of the sport’s strongest selling points, Joe faces a busy few weeks on the home front, but, all going well, he will be back in a boat helping Courtmac defend their All-Ireland title in 2016. Watch out, Jennifer, the lads are catching up.
‘I don’t think we’ll get eight All-Stars though,’ Joe laughed, before saving the last word for the older twin, Damien: ‘He’s older by nine minutes. You’d know it because he’s more grey hair!’
The Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star awards is the most popular sporting awards scheme in West Cork, and is run by the Celtic Ross, The Southern Star and C103.