LAST WORD COLUMN: Gary and Paul should welcome challenge from Jake and Fintan

May 19th, 2019 5:00 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Jake and Fintan McCarthy training on the Ilen river in Skibbereen.

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LAST WORD COLUMN - by Kieran McCarthy


JAKE is the oldest of the McCarthy twins by 80 seconds. But that doesn’t buy him much authority over Fintan. They keep each other grounded and this is a team effort.

Two brothers from Aughadown who row for Skibbereen Rowing Club and Ireland, who move a boat fast, who are talented and ambitious, who finish each other’s sentences and who don’t hold back with one another. There’s no filter here. But that’s a good thing.

‘A lot of people hear us. They are not necessarily on the river but they still hear us and hear us shouting. That’s normal to us and that’s what we do every day,’ Jake says, before Fintan adds: ‘They’d say that we were killing each other – but we don’t think anything of that. That’s a normal day for us. We don’t take each other too seriously, we give out and then we’re fine after.’

Jake has the volume but it’s Fintan who can deliver the low blows, or ‘gut punchers’, as Jake calls them. Together, they work well. And if their story sounds familiar, well, it is.

Gary (26) and Paul O’Donovan (25) are also brothers from the parish of Aughadown. They also row Skibbereen Rowing Club and Ireland. They move the men’s lightweight double faster than anyone else in the world. They’re the very best at what they do. There’s no filter there either. And we all know their story.

This is where it gets interesting.

2016 Olympic silver medallists Gary and Paul were crowned world men’s lightweight double champions last year – officially, the best in the world – and their target is gold at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Jake and Fintan want to go to that Olympics too. Gary and Paul are sitting in the lightweight double right now. They are in the seats that Jake and Fintan (22) want, so the latter duo has a huge challenge ahead.

The men’s lightweight double is the only Olympic-class boat available to lightweight rowers. Jake and Fintan want to become Olympians. But standing in their way are two legends of Irish rowing, with Paul a three-time world champion. That’s why this is interesting. We have four Skibbereen rowers vying for two seats in the one boat in an important year. This is an Olympic qualifying year. At the World Rowing Championships in Austria at the end of August, Ireland will try to qualify the men’s lightweight double for next year’s Olympics.

Right now Gary and Paul are in possession of the two seats in the boat – but Jake and Fintan are ready to challenge.

‘To be honest, the Olympics is a target. You always feel stupid saying it but when you step back and look at it, it is a big goal. It would be the target alright,’ Fintan told the Star Sport Podcast this week.

Jake added: ‘We will see how this season goes, see how the trials go at the end of June. We trial regularly so even if there is a boat that is going to this year’s world championships, that’s not necessarily the boat that will be at the Olympic Games next year. We will keep training away and see where it goes. But ya, it is a target.’

Jake and Fintan are improving considerably. They won a bronze medal in the men’s lightweight double at the international regatta in Piediluco, Italy, recently, finishing just behind Italy and Belgium, who Gary and Paul beat in last year’s world final in Bulgaria. At the recent Skibbereen Regatta, Fintan got the better of Gary in the men’s senior single scull, but Gary is only back on the water following a wrist injury he suffered while training in New Zealand.

World champs Gary and Paul are still in pole position. Jake and Fintan are chasing them. But this is good news for all four. Gary and Paul need competition and their younger Skibb club-mates hope to provide that. This should keep Gary and Paul on their toes. Competition is good, it sharpens the mind and helps focus. Gary and Paul will want to make sure they show who’s boss in the lightweight double. It’s win-win for coach Dominic Casey as he has four rowers, all Skibb, vying for two seats.

‘We have made some pretty good progress this year,’ Fintan says, and there’s scope for more, as well as a big chance at the European Rowing Championships when the twins will represent Ireland in the men’s lightweight double. (Gary is competing in a lightweight single while Paul is sitting this one out due to college and exam commitments)

The Europeans in Lucerne at the end of the month will offer an indicator as to where Jake and Fintan stand right now.

‘What we know at the moment is that we are going to the European Championships in the double. I assume our result there might have a bearing on other regattas but at the moment all we know is the Europeans. We have the trials then that will probably decide the boat for the worlds,’ Jake explains.

There is a step-up from U23s to senior, and Jake and Fintan need to find their feet fast, as this year will be very competitive. Countries are getting their best rowers into the double ahead of the world championships and the chance to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. Whether they have what it takes to oust Gary and Paul, or one of the two, will add an extra element of competition to training and the Irish set-up this year – but Jake and Fintan are enjoying the challenge.

They have both finished college in UCC and plan on taking a year out from ‘the working world’ in 2020. All going to plan, the Irish men’s lightweight double will qualify for the Olympics at this year’s worlds. But it’s the boat the qualifies, and that means that changes can be made to the line-up. If Mr A and Mr B qualify a boat, that doesn’t guarantee them their place at the Olympics. They are in pole position but the selection process is opened again.

On the challenge of catching Gary and Paul, or one of the two, Jake said: ‘If you want to be the best in the world you have to beat everyone, in other countries and in your own country. The standard is high (in Ireland) so it’s good in that you know if you are in the boat, then you have a really good chance of doing really well.’

Just like Gary and Paul have said in the past too, if someone faster comes along, then they will row with them. It’s all about moving that boat as fast as possible. Splitting twins up could be harder but needs must. Jake and Fintan are ‘putting all our eggs in this one basket’ and don’t want any regrets.

Interesting times ahead.

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