BY KIERAN McCARTHY
DOMINIC Casey is all things to all people.
To Aoife Casey, he’s her father.
To Gary and Paul O’Donovan, he’s their coach and mentor.
To Eugene Coakley, he’s the man who convinced the future Olympian not to pack up rowing in 1998.
To Rowing Ireland CEO Hamish MacAdams, he’s a role model for others in the sport.
To anyone who has passed through the doors of Skibbereen Rowing Club or who is now associated with the club, he is many things: a coach, a leader, a fountain of knowledge, an inspiration, a friend and a workaholic – but most of all Dominic’s a genuinely nice guy.
While Gary and Paul O’Donovan get the headlines for their successes this year – notably winning European gold in May – their coach prefers to stand in the shadows away from the glare of the spotlight and the media.
Trust me, this writer knows this better than anyone else.
Dominic is not one for headlines.
Getting him to talk on the record has proved to be one of the more challenging aspects of my time at The Southern Star. Nine times out of ten, after a phone conversation between us, it ends in those familiar words: ‘don’t quote me on anything I said there!’
It’s our version of Groundhog Day.
I have had to devise different ways to coax quotes from Dominic without him realising he is being interviewed. Thank God for emails.
In fairness to him, he’s quite savvy on the email front, as Richard Coakley – one of Skibbereen’s three former Olympic rowers, in Beijing 2008 – can testify to. Coakley might be on the other side of the world now, living in Australia, but Dominic is just the press of a button away.
‘The week after the O’Donovans won gold at the European Championships, Dominic was emailing me, asking for training programmes that the Aussies are following. He is always looking for ways to improve and that attitude of striving for better has been passed down to all the members of Skibbereen RC,’ Coakley said, and that ties into stories from Gary and Paul O’Donovan. When they’re away at international regattas, Dominic ‘sits with other coaches to see what they’re doing and tries to learn as much as he can.’
He always wants to move forward, and let the rowing do the talking, not him.
DOMINIC likes to stand in the background. That’s not a state secret. It’s fact.
At a recent Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star of the Month award evening, Gary and Paul O’Donovan were honoured for their European gold-winning performance in Germany, but while his star pupils were the centre of attention in Rosscarbery, Dominic stayed away, instead preferring to hold a training session that same evening with the Skibbereen club he has guided and shaped into the country’s number one rowing club.
The club comes first.
At the recent national championships in Inniscarra, Skibbereen won a staggering 13 titles to officially, and for the first time, become the most successful rowing club in Ireland.
It was the culmination of a lifelong dream for the club and Dominic, who kept track of affairs on that special weekend from afar, as he was in Banyoles, northern Spain at a pre-Olympic training camp for the O’Donovans.
It was the first time since 1980 that Dominic missed the national championships.
While he wasn’t at the National Rowing Centre in person, his presence was still felt, according to Skibbereen’s most senior rower Kenneth McCarthy, a man who won his 16th national title that weekend.
‘Dominic wasn’t there, but he still was in one way. He was texting and ringing, keeping in constant contact with everyone. It’s the interest he has and his dedication – that rubs off on everyone else then. He is a true leader. He’s a nice guy, he’s fair and honest, and he wants the best for everyone,’ McCarthy explained.
Richard Coakley didn’t expect any less of Dominic: ‘I guarantee you Dominic was on the phone all day, instructing his army of coaches and volunteers. We won 13 national titles and the next day Dominic is emailing plans for next season and ways we can improve for next season.’
Again, always looking to the future.
AOIFE Casey doesn’t mind sharing her father. She hasn’t known it any other way.
Well before her and her siblings (Niamh, Caoimhe and young Dominic) came along, their father was well known in rowing circles. He won eight national titles, the first in 1983. Then the student became the master, stepping into coaching, and little did Richard Hosford know that when he introduced Dominic to rowing all those years ago, he lit a fire that is still burning as bright today.
From the very start, he was hooked, and Nuala Luton (current president of Skibbereen Rowing Club) recalled: ‘He wanted to train all the time. He loves rowing.’
Aoife Casey agrees, she sees that passion at home and at training.
‘He is like a father to all of the athletes, he’s there to help people and that’s what he does so well,’ said his daughter, who won four national titles at the recent championships, including her first senior pot.
‘If ever I need any information or help, I can pop into the room next door and quiz him. He knows so much, he loves teaching people and he loves seeing others improve.’
She adds: ‘He doesn’t want the fame that’s involved in it. He sees his role as helping people and he’s not in this for himself. The joy he gets are the results of the athletes in the club; that’s where he gets his satisfaction.’
It’s important to note too that Dominic is one (very important) part of the wheel that turns Skibbereen Rowing Club. Richard Hosford, Mike O’Brien, John Whooley and Sean O’Brien, they’ve all played major roles in this rowing juggernaut that has made huge waves since the club was founded in 1976.
It’s a team effort, and even now while Dominic is in Brazil, helping Gary and Paul O’Donovan ahead of the biggest regatta of their lives, his wife Eleanor has taken over the coaching of the women’s junior double (Aoife Casey and Emily Hegarty) that will compete at the junior worlds in Rotterdam at the end of the month. Six Skibb athletes are going to the world juniors, U23s and seniors.
Rowing is in the Casey family, it’s a way of life.
THESE few weeks at the Olympics in Brazil are huge for the O’Donovan brothers, but also for Dominic, who is also being challenged at the elite level.
As Rowing Ireland CEO Hamish Adams explained to The Southern Star in September 2015, ‘he has proven himself at a domestic level. The challenge now is, and he is well on his way, to prove himself at the international level because he hasn’t had that experience at this stage.’
Since then, the Skibb brothers won silver at Varese, gold at the Europeans, and two fourth-place finishes at Lucerne and Poznan in an Olympic year that saw them move from 11th in the world last September to fifth in the rankings ahead of their Olympic heat on Sunday afternoon.
Dominic, as his track record shows, is a winner, no matter what the level. Whether that’s with Skibbereen’s U14s or their elite international rowers, his desire doesn’t change.
Rowing Ireland coach Pat McInerney added: ‘Some clubs do it for a while before they get burned out or distracted, but Dominic has been doing this for almost 30 years as a coach. He has a great group around him and he developed that group. He is the driving force behind it.’
Richard Coakley adds: ‘His main strength is his passion for rowing and his belief that any one of us can be the best in the world if we want it hard enough. Dominic has set up a great rowing culture in the club and all the new rowers buy into this culture of hard work and commitment.’
Consistent. Innovative. Passionate. A champion. Patient. Caring. Driven. Intelligent. Motivating. These are just some of the words to describe a quiet man who has changing the local and national rowing landscape.
Fingers crossed, Gary and Paul O’Donovan can negotiate their way to an Olympic ‘A’ final over the next week or so. It’s what they and Dominic deserve.
Whatever happens, it’s time to step out of the shadows, Dominic, and, for once, soak up the applause. You’ve earned it.
(And maybe you’ll give me some quotes on the record this time!)