HE dipped his oar into the acting world earlier this year as an extra on Game of Thrones and now Mark O’Donovan is poised to be crowned king of the rowing kingdom, along with Shane O’Driscoll.
The all-conquering Skibbereen Rowing Club duo has dominated the men’s lightweight pair this year. They’ve won gold at all four international regattas including the Europeans, and they’ve set their sights on landing the big one at the World Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Florida this Friday.
Gold here would complete the clean sweep and complete a remarkable year for the Poundlick (Mark) and Lisheen (Shane) men.
‘The worlds are the big one,’ Shane (25) said.
‘They’re the biggest regatta of the year.
‘We have had a good season so far but we need to finish it off now with another gold. That’s what we want.’
Their 2017 form has been remarkable. From not medalling internationally before, they’ve blitzed their opposition this year. They won gold in all three World Cup regattas (Belgrade, Poznan and Lucerne) and sandwiched in the middle was the European championship win in the Czech Republic in May. What’s the secret to their success? Hard work and fear. Mark (28) explains.
‘Winning doesn’t bring any extra pressure, not at all. We will still go out with a fear,’ he said.
We won’t become complacent in anything that we are doing in our preparation and our training. That fear keeps you on your toes.
‘It’s the fear of not doing your best, the fear of someone passing you out, of someone beating you, so you are always going to go as hard as you can.’
Shane nods his head in agreement.
‘You have to keep that fear there. We like having a little bit of fear. I don’t like crews that get complacent. You have to respect all the opposition because you never know what they have in them,’ he added, and what also keeps them grounded, as well as coach Dominic Casey, is the road they’ve travelled. Rewind back to the 2015 world rowing championships in France, they finished seventh in the lightweight men’s pair.
At last year’s worlds, they finished fourth, just outside the medals. Again. This year’s worlds in Florida offer the platform to show just how much they’ve improved and confirm their position as the dominant pair in lightweight men’s rowing. This is the chance to officially be recognised as the best in the world.
‘We don’t like fourth place at all,’ Shane explained, looking back at last year’s world seniors in Rotterdam.
‘We saw Paul (O’Donovan) win gold and it was brilliant for him. That’s what we wanted – but we came fourth. No medal, again. At time it was awful but we didn’t dwell on it. We just pushed on, upped our training and upped the miles.
‘That fourth place, a lot of crews go there and it’s not a nice place to be.
‘You’ll see that in our races as well, we rate higher and we race aggressively in the first half of the race – that’s because we know what it’s like to be in fourth place and we don’t want to be there at any moment of the race.
‘After the first minute of the race, if we look across and see we’re around third or fourth we try to get out of that position as fast as we can.
‘At the world champs, we are prepared for any situation. We have that in our heads that fourth place is not a nice place to be and we try to stay away from it as much as we can.’
Winning has become the norm for Mark and Shane this year but they’re not taking any of it for granted. Shane says they can’t take their foot off the pedal now. Mark agrees.
‘We will just enjoy it while we can,’ he said.
‘A lot of people go through the careers with nothing so we’re delighted that we have had some success this year.
‘Am I surprised? No. We had a good base of training last winter, we’ve spent a lot of time together, we increased our volume of training and our quality of training – and it’s all helped with the final product.
‘The first win at the World Cup in Belgrade showed us that we were we well able and we’ve kicked on from there.’
What also helps is the chemistry between Mark and Shane. They combine well.
‘We both have the same goals and are on the same wavelength so that makes things a lot easier,’ Mark said of his housemate.
‘There has been no nagging, no bitching, no moaning. We avoid conflict. We push on hard in training. We keep it simple. We are going from strength to strength, the same ding-dong.
‘The winning makes it easier, you are going to enjoy the sport that bit more.’
And another gold medal in Florida today will definitely the Skibb pair sit on the throne of world rowing after a dominant year.