Skibb rowers in seventh heaven

July 22nd, 2017 1:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

Fantastic four: The all-star Skibbereen crew of Shane O'Driscoll, Mark O'Donovan, Paul O'Donovan and Gary O'Donovan won the men's senior four at the Irish Rowing Championships on Friday.

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THEY missed out on winning the senior men's eight but Skibbereen Rowing Club still rowed away with seven titles from the 2017 Irish Rowing Championships.

This solidifies Skibb's standing as the number one rowing club in the country with 170 Irish championship titles.

As the first championship finals got underway on a sunny Friday morning, the Skibbereen women's senior four, stroked by European silver medallist Denise Walsh, Skibbereen Rowing Club backed up by sisters Niamh and Aoife Casey and Emily Hegarty got off to a blistering start. Through, long fluid rowing, they moved away from the field and crossed the line in a course record of six minutes 40 seconds to bring home Skibbereen's first championship of 2017. 

Soon after, it was the turn of Olympic silver medallists Paul and Gary O'Donovan who lined up in a new red and white boat to race the men's senior double. They raced with pride to win their first championship together in this boat class.

A young crew hoping to follow in Paul and Gary's footsteps were the next to the fore for Skibbereen, as the men's junior 14 quad of Alan Cotter, Oisin Boyle, Eoin Murran, Oisin O'Sullivan and cox Caoimhe Casey took a fine victory over Enniskillen. 

The afternoon saw four European medallists join forces to form a formidable men's senior four. Gary and Paul swapped two oars for one and together with Shane O'Driscoll and Mark O'Donovan, they raced with passion and skill to see off the challenge of Commerical Rowing Club, also setting a new course record on the way. 

But there was no time for celebrating for world champion Paul O'Donovan who jumped straight into the scull. Only three weeks ago at Cork regatta, Paul gave a master display in sculling when he crossed the line in six minutes 50 seconds. However, Paul had his sights on breaking this marker and on Friday evening the onlooking crowd cheered their hero on as he powered home in a course record of 6:48. This was a fitting end to a fantastic day for Skibbereen.

Saturday morning saw the European champions pair of Mark and Shane take to the water and they continued their unbeaten run and fine form to take the men's senior pair championship. 

Very strong performances were also put in by the women's squad with Lydia Heaphy and Emily Hegarty taking silver in the intermediate double scull, Aoife Casey taking bronze in a top-class junior women's single field and showing the future is just as bright for the girls, Sinead Coakley rowed with great strength and determination to win the junior 14 single.

Unfortunately, at this half-way stage in the championships, the weather gods started to act up and following adverse conditions in the afternoon heats, the organising committee took the decision to postpone the scheduled finals. 

As many Skibbereen athletes had hectic racing schedules, this presented an increased challenge of additional races and reduced recovery on the final day of the event. A new timetable saw Sunday's racing commence at 7am and in these early finals, Skibbereen took two second places – Denise Walsh and Aoife Casey in the women's senior pair and Orla Hayes in the single. After making his way to the final in a large and high quality entry, Kealan Mannix also performed strongly in the intermediate scull final. 

Without much delay it was back to Sunday's racing schedule and two of Skibb's famous five, Gary and Denise, did not disappoint with their top-class single sculling performances in the men's and women's lightweight singles. Gary saw off the challenge of clubmate Aodhan Burns who came second, while Denise opened out and extended an early lead on a Bann sculler. 

Finally, the men's club four of Gearoid Murphy, Diarmuid O'Driscoll, Rory O'Neill, Naoise Kennedy and cox Paudie Murphy and intermediate pair of Kenneth McCarthy and James Lupton finished strongly in their respective finals. 

By now it was time for the final racing block of the 2017 championships and the focus turned the eights. The women's club eight of Bernadette Walsh, Ellen McCarthy, Aine McCarthy, Karen McCarthy, Aoibhinn Keating, Emily Dulohery, Alicia O'Neill, Aoife Leonard and cox Jessica Tidmarsh showed their tenacity with a great sprint finish to take their place in the final where they produced another strong performance to take fourth.

Soon after this, in a composite with UCC, the senior women's eight set their sights on defending their 2016 title. In a close race, they took the lead in the early stages but in the end a UCD composite crew, strengthened by Olympians Sanita Puspure and Claire Lambe, emerged as winners with the Skibbereen and Commercial crews overlapping on the line.              

For the first time ever, Skibbereen took their place in the men's senior eight and this provided a unique opportunity for club athletes to combine forces with their international team-mates. This anticipated final provided plenty of excitement for the spectators and as the boats approached the last 250 metres, the NUIG, Commerical and Skibbereen crews were all in the hunt for the ‘big pot'. 

When the beeper sounded, Commerical had edged Skibbereen by only one second, a fantastic performance from a Skibbereen crew who had only two training sessions together in the boat due to international comittments of Gary, Paul, Mark and Shane who were joined by Diarmuid O'Driscoll, James Lupton, Gearoid Murphy, Kenneth McCarthy and coxed by Paudie Murphy. 

The last crew to take to the water was the men's junior 15 quad; this young crew have really taken it on this season and all club members have recognised the efforts and progression of these young athletes throughout the season. The crew of Darragh Kavanagh, Fionn O'Regan, Ethan O'Connor, Oisin Boyle coxed by Eoin Murran raced fantastically to take victory over Fermoy .

• Complied by Orla Hayes and Christine Fitzgerald

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