Almost lost in the great celebrations of Olympic medal winners’ Gary and Paul O’Donovan was that two more Skibbereen Rowing Club stars, Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan, finished fourth at the recent world senior rowing championships. KIERAN McCARTHY caught up with Shane
SHANE O’Driscoll has made a promise to himself in his quest to be the best in the world: to get up earlier in the morning for training.
Granted, it’s not earth-shattering, but when you’re battling to become number one every inch and second counts.
Less than two weeks ago this talented rower (23) from Kilkilleen, Lisheen finished fourth in the world, alongside Mark O’Donovan (27), from Poundlick, outside Skibbereen, in the Irish men’s lightweight pair at the world senior rowing championships in Rotterdam.
Rewind 12 months and they were seventh in the world, after winning the B final at Aiguebelette, so they’re on an upward curve.
France, Denmark and Great Britain took the podium spots at the latest worlds, but Shane and Mark are closing the gap, and they’re on the right track; momentum is their friend.
Last week, while Mark was away in Italy, Shane shared in a fantastic week of celebrations as Gary and Paul O’Donovan – his best friends since they were kids – were welcomed home as heroes after their Olympic Games silver medal-winning performances in Rio, while Paul also won gold in the lightweight single sculls at the worlds in Rotterdam.
Seeing the impact of Gary and Paul’s success is extra motivation for Shane.
‘I went up to Minihane’s Bar, the local, after the homecoming in Church Cross on the Tuesday night and I thought people would be after the lads but people wanted a photo with me as well and they were so happy with that. I saw elderly people up by the barriers on Monday night (at the homecoming in Skibbereen) and I was talking to them after and they said they were there three hours, waiting. That’s what it’s about, making a difference,’ the 23-year-old said.
‘I’m not back training yet but I was thinking that I might do a little bit already, to keep the fitness going. Watching the celebrations and seeing what it meant to people locally has helped with motivation.
‘We do so much training that motivation is obviously key, especially on those dark winter mornings, but we still do it.
‘It might make me get out of bed a bit earlier, even though I’ll still struggle – but seeing all the people being so happy and what it means to them, I might start getting up a bit earlier so Mark doesn’t have to keep knocking on my door to get me up for training!’
Shane and Mark are living together in Dripsey, in a house by the lake that’s not too far from the National Rowing Centre in Inniscarra, where they train.
They’ve been living here since last November and it’s an upgrade on their previous accommodation.
‘Last year we stayed over a pub in Coachford where Mark was renting. We had pennies, we had no money but we knew we had to make it work,’ Shane explained.
‘Mark got another bed in, threw it in beside his but the room was really small and my bed blocked off the door to the bathroom. The kitchen was small, too. We were 23 hours a day together but we’d never fight.
‘Every Saturday night we’d never get to sleep because they would be singing in the pub downstairs!’
‘I always remember, at a training camp, we had a race on the rowing machine and I won it. I was so happy to win it. I wouldn’t have been great at football (with Ilen Rovers) so to win the race – it was 500 metres or something – I felt very encouraged afterwards,’ Shane recalled of an early moment when he realised that rowing was the sport for him.
He was attending Lisheen National School, in the same class as Gary O’Donovan, a class ahead of Paul, and we can also add Diarmuid O’Driscoll into the mix – four friends and neighbours from Lisheen brought closer together by their love of the same sport.
Shane actually started off in coastal rowing with Castletownshend, following his older brother Kevin, but he was soon drawn by the appeal of Skibbereen Rowing Club, especially since Gary and Paul were also involved.
‘I started off with the rowing programme at Lisheen National School and once I started, that was that. Gary and Paul were rowing weekends with their dad Teddy, and when he saw that I liked it, he told me to come along with them,’ recalled Shane, who works as an AutoCAD engineer with Cronin Concrete Group in Coachford.
The four friends soon became the top young junior quad in the country – ‘arguably senior, too,’ Shane suggests – and they were all making waves.
‘Myself and Paul were in the double for a few years, and Gary was in a quad before us as well, and I think we all won five won junior pots (championships) before 2010, which was a good enough achievement,’ he said.
Shane, Gary and Paul were selected for the Irish junior team for the 2008 Home International Regatta in 2008, and as Shane recalls they took it more serious than most.
‘Teddy was coaching us then and he trained us hard that year,’ he said.
‘The Home International is the regatta that everyone looks at as being the fun regatta. It’s England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and there are huge celebrations afterwards. But Teddy didn’t tell us about the celebrations so we went over thinking it was really serious and we were taking it very serious but everyone else was there having fun. Anyway, we went out and we won it by a good bit.
‘Teddy always had a plan for us that we would row the Homes that year, go to the Coupe (de la Jeunesse) the following year (2009) and then hit the junior worlds the year after (2010). It was a good plan, to be fair to him.
‘We didn’t make the junior worlds but we did go to the Coupe for two years in a row and we did pick up medals on both years, which was pretty good.’
That was the start of Shane’s international career and he has represented Ireland every year since ’08.
Earlier this year, Shane and Mark made a late attempt to qualify for the Olympics in Rio. They formed a lightweight four with Lloyd Seaman and Liam Keane, but they were well off the pace, finishing fourth in the C final at the World Cup Regatta in Varese last April, 16th overall.
The lightweight four isn’t there yet, says Shane.
‘We trained in the four for a long, long time. We committed to it. We gave it our all. We went to one regatta but we weren’t at the races. We knew we wouldn’t come near qualifying so we said we’d just let it go. We tried and we knew it would be an uphill battle but we had to leave it.’
Going back into the pair then with Mark (a strength and conditioning coach with Rowing Ireland), there was pressure on the Skibb duo to prove themselves – and they have. They finished fourth in the A final at the European Rowing Championships in Brandenburg (four seconds outside a medal), fourth at the World Cup regatta in Poznan and now fourth at the worlds – that’s a solid base to build on for 2017.
‘We are very excited about the world championships in Florida next year. We will train as hard as we can and as fast as we can throughout the winter because you never know what the spring will bring,’ Shane said.
‘I was looking at the regattas next season, and we will be targeting the Europeans – that’s one that we want to go out and win. If we put down a solid winter’s training and work with the two lads (Gary and Paul), we’ll be in good shape for next year.’
Success breeds success, and Shane and Mark’s fourth place finish at the recent world championships mirrors that of Paul O’Donovan in the lightweight single scull at the 2014 worlds. Two years on Paul is world champion, and Shane takes plenty of encouragement from that story, especially since he has watched it all unfold.
‘I remember the morning a few years ago when Paul came fourth in the world, myself and Gary were there and we were so proud. It made us think that one of us could be the best in the world,’ Shane said.
‘When Paul came in, we gave him a hand with his boat and we were over the moon for him, we were so happy, but he was a bit disappointed that he missed out on a medal. We were like “come on man, you finished fourth in the world”.
‘Funnily enough when myself and Mark crossed the line after the final in Rotterdam a few weeks ago, we were in the cool down, we were talking away and we were bitterly disappointed that we missed out on a medal – but I remember thinking back to when Paul was fourth in the world and we were so happy for him.
‘Now I am fourth in the world – and when I was a junior I would have given everything to be in this position – but I am disappointed we didn’t get a bronze medal. We were at the stage that Paul was at so hopefully we can keep progressing the same way Paul did.’
Shane and Mark on the right road. Remember their names.