BY KIERAN McCARTHY
THE undisputed number one rowing club in Ireland has a new target: to win 200 national championship titles.
At last year's Irish Rowing Championships, Skibbereen Rowing Club won 13 national titles to hit the number one spot, and a record total of 163 titles, and now they want to put clear water between themselves and their rivals.
Heading the roll of honour is a source of great pride for all involved in the club â but ahead of this weekend's Irish championships at Inniscarra, they want more, as experienced rower Orla Hayes explains.
âWith Skibbereen you are always looking forward to the next target â that's probably reaching the 200 mark,' she said.
âFor years we were just trying to pick off the clubs that were ahead of us, one by one, from seventh to sixth to fifth, all the way up.Â
âBecause Commercial and Neptune are such big clubs it took a bit of time and a lot of work to get to number one, and now that we have finally got to the top, it's about what can we aim for next.
âThat's what Dominic (Casey) has instilled in us all, the drive to get better.'
Orla (32) knows the national championships better than most, coxing in 1999 and going on since to win numerous titles as a junior and in recent years as a senior.
A vastly experienced rower, she's represented Ireland at the U23 world championships and several World Rowing Cups, and this Sunday she'll take her place in a Skibbereen RC-UCC composite eight.Â
This boat took the top prize at last year's nationals, and it's weighted towards Skibb this weekend with Orla joined by European silver medalist Denise Walsh, Aoife Casey, Niamh Casey, Emily Hegarty and Lydia Heaphy.
Skibbereen RC is sending a star-studded team to these Irish championships including Olympic silver medalists Paul and Gary O'Donovan (Paul is back in Skibb colours after several years in the UCD singlet), European lightweight pair champions Shane O'Driscoll and Mark O'Donovan, and Denise Walsh, so the club has set its sights on another big weekend.
âThere's great excitement these weeks,' Orla explained.
âYou couldn't get parking at the clubhouse last week, there was nowhere to put your bag in the changing room, everyone is getting ready and you can feel the buzz building.
âThis will be a weekend that the younger members will never forget. There are so many young athletes who joined last year and they'll almost pinch themselves to think that they are on the same team as Gary and Paul. They get to go to the same tents (at the National Rowing Centre), train with the same coaches and see their idols in the same colours; it's a great experience.'