Sports Editor Kieran McCarthy reveals his highlight of 2018
GARY O’Donovan had felt like he was being left behind.
To a certain degree, he was.
Okay, he has an Olympic silver medal in his back pocket from 2016, but he watched on as his younger brother Paul powered his way to back-to-back world lightweight single scull titles in 2016 and 2017. A world champion.
Then, Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll enjoyed the clean sweep in 2017 in the lightweight pair, climaxing with their world championship success in Florida. Another gold. More importantly, they were the best in the world.
Wherever Gary looked, he saw gold medals. But he had none. He hadn’t even rowed in a world A final at any level to put himself in the mix for a medal of any colour. Not at senior, U23 or junior levels.
Go back a bit further and the men he used to chase on the Ilen when he was a young buck, they had world medals. Eugene Coakley with silver and bronze. Tim Harnedy had a silver.
Skibbereen Rowing Club’s elite made their mark at world championship level. Gary hadn’t. That changed in 2018.
The season was ticking along nicely. Bronze in World Cup I in Belgrade. Gold in World Cup III in Lucerne. Silver at the Europeans in Glasgow. All eyes then on Plovdiv in Bulgaria for the worlds in September.
Gary and Paul won their heat with time to spare, the Germans over three seconds behind. It was on to the quarter-final then and again the Lisheen lads came home first, New Zealand tucked in behind them. Third place was their lot in the semi-final, with Italy and Belgium ahead of them, but Gary and Paul were in the final – and in with a chance of a world medal.
There’s a board hanging up in the National Rowing Centre that lists all Ireland’s world championship medallists. Gary sees that every time he trains there. His name wasn’t on it. But he could tell you whose is.
So, on a super Saturday in sunny Bulgaria, Gary and Paul romped to glory. This was their best-ever performance.
They were different strokes to the rest. Utterly dominant. Impressive.
Second at the halfway mark, they soon hit the front – and they stayed there. Italy followed them home, one and a half seconds behind, and then it was the Belgians.
For Paul, it was a third world gold medal, a record for an Irish rower and adding further to his standing as the county’s best ever rower. For Gary, it was his first world gold medal.
He’s not being left behind anymore. He is a world champion. And he deserves that title. Whatever else rowing brings – and hopefully there are bigger things to come – he’ll know that he was the best in the world.
He had watched on and supported Paul, Shane and Mark, but this is moment in the spotlight. In the best shape of his life and after working incredibly hard, Gary stepped out of the shadows and walked forward to the centre of the stage.
That’s why it’s extra special to see Gary become a world champion.
Nice guys don’t always get the girl, but this time a nice guy got what he really wanted: a gold medal.
With the Tokyo Olympics starting to come into distant view, Gary and Paul have signalled their intentions. They laid down a serious marker by winning gold. They’re now the number one men’s lightweight double in the world and that’s where they want to stay.