BY KIERAN McCARTHY
THAT wasn’t a mini-heatwave that Skibbereen experienced earlier this week, it was the shine off Dominic Casey’s beaming smile from Banyoles in northern Spain after Skibbereen Rowing Club achieved its target: to become the number one rowing club in Ireland.
Last weekend at the Irish Rowing Championships at the National Rowing Centre in Inniscarra, Skibbereen blew their opposition out of the water as the club won a terrific 13 national titles.
Heading into the weekend, Skibbereen and Neptune Rowing Club were both tied on 150 national titles apiece at the top of the leaderboard, but the West Cork club has streaked ahead and now has outright ownership of the roll of honour.
While Neptune won two titles, Skibbereen’s lucky 13 moves them onto 163 national championships won, and already 11 ahead of their closest rival.
No wonder renowned Skibbereen coach Dominic Casey was smiling from Spain, as he kept close tabs on the goings-on at the nationals. It was the first time since 1980 that Casey missed the championships but he has a good reason – he is currently at a training camp for Lisheen brothers Gary and Paul O’Donovan ahead of next month’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
‘This has been a lifelong dream which everyone in the club has been waiting for but it was only a matter of time,’ Casey said.
‘Immense credit is due to the athletes who have come through the club over the years and, of course, this year with 13 national championships, you could not ask for more.
‘To be number one means a lot to the club and the athletes, and it is really what the club ethos is all about. It is what our athletes think about and it is what every athlete that comes into the club strives to achieve from a very young age.
‘It also says a lot about the resilience and spirit of the people of Skibbereen and West Cork.
‘I want to say a special thanks to all the athletes, administrators, officers, coaches and parents who make and have made it possible for Skibbereen Rowing Club to achieve its dreams over the past 46 years – to become the best club in the country. Well done to all.’
It was a terrific weekend for Skibbereen Rowing Club – the current Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Club of the Year – who benefited from having three of its top international rowers available, as both Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan won four national championships and Denise Walsh brought three more titles back to her hometown.
Aoife Casey and Emily Hegarty won the women’s junior 18 double sculls, while Casey, Hegarty, Lydia Heaphy and Aoibhinn Keating came first in the women’s junior 18 coxless four. The same four rowers also won the women’s junior 18 quadsculls. Emily Hegarty rounded off a great weekend with victory in the women’s junior 18 single sculls.
Aoife Casey and Denise Walsh won the women’s senior pair in style, while Walsh dominated the women’s lightweight single scull. There was more success for Walsh in the women’s senior eight as three Skibb rowers – Walsh, Niamh Casey and Orla Hayes – joined up with five athletes from UCC, and this composite crew took the top prize.
Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll were unbeatable in the men’s senior double sculls and the men’s senior pair. O’Donovan and O’Driscoll were joined by Kenneth McCarthy and Fintan McCarthy to take first in the men’s senior quadscull. Mark O’Donovan claimed the senior men’s single scull.
Shane O’Driscoll, Aodhan Burns and Naoise Kennedy took the top prize in the men’s lightweight single scull, while brothers Fintan and Jake McCarthy rounded off a magnificent weekend with victory in the men’s intermediate double sculls.
For experienced rowers like Orla Hayes, who won her 15th national title, and Kenneth McCarthy, who won his 16th national title, it was a special weekend, as McCarthy says.
‘We can finally say we are number one, which is fantastic for the club and a huge honour,’ he said.
‘Winning the men’s senior quadscull meant a lot to me because I always wanted to win a national championship as a dad, so it was a sweet moment.
‘To win the title by such a tight margin made it all the more special. We were third at one point but inch by inch we came back, and we finally crossed the line 0.6 of a second ahead of second place.’