Club looks to add to its record haul at the national championships this weekend
WHEN Sharon Murphy sat in her car at Skibbereen Rowing Club, looking out on the Ilen as she waited for her son, Finn O’Reilly, who rows, she wondered what it would be like to row a boat down the river.
It’s a sport, Sharon thought, that she’d like. She worked on yachts for years and enjoys sailing. But the mother of two, in her fifties, thought it was too late to become a rower.
Club secretary TJ Ryan had other ideas. He saw mothers waiting in their cars as their kids trained and convinced them to hop in a boat.
The first time Sharon rowed was May 2017. She remembers it was a really warm evening and the Ilen was as flat as a mirror. It was amazing. She went again the following week. And hasn’t stopped since.
‘I had never rowed before,’ says the Clare woman who lives in Kilcoe with her family.
‘I watched them on the river and thought it would have been the sport for me, and I would have loved to do that.
‘Some of the ladies had already rowed in the past but stopped for various reasons and they all came back when TJ decided to put us together. Some of us were mothers of rowers who got sick of sitting in the car park watching them.
‘When we were offered the opportunity, it was more of a laugh at first but now we are addicted!’
These women formed Skibb’s first masters’ crew. Their first race was at a Head of the River meet in Cork City in November 2017. In the boat that dull day on the Lee were the history-makers – Zenda Williams, Debbie Heaphy, Avril Coakley, Sue McCarthy, Margaret Fitzgerald, Sharon Murphy, Janet Murran and Barbara Nugent, with Jessica Tidmarsh as cox.
Last year they competed at the Irish Rowing Championships, and while numbers have fluctuated, they are back at the nationals at Inniscarra again this weekend, which run from Friday to Sunday.
Four Skibb masters’ women – Sharon, Barbara Nugent, Janet Murran and Mags Fitzgerald – will race in a quad as well as form a composite eight with four Bantry women. What initially started out as fun – and still is – has seen their competitiveness come to the fore.
‘When we started it was for a combination of fitness and social interaction, and as we improved we got a bit competitive as well,’ Sharon laughed.
‘We started out training once a week, very quickly that became twice a week and ahead of the champs this weekend we will do seven sessions.’
Sharon and the gang are racing over two years and it’s now she feels they are seeing results. Wise words from Debbie Heaphy, who rowed with this crew, have stuck in Sharon’s mind.
‘At the start Debbie told us not to panic, that it takes two years to learn how to row properly and she was absolutely right. It’s only in the last three or four months that we have really understood the instructions that are being given to us and it’s all making sense,’ says Sharon, whose son, Finn O’Reilly, has been named on the Ireland junior team for the Coupe de la Jeunesse in Italy in early August.
Finn’s also competing at the National Rowing Centre too this weekend as Skibbereen Rowing Club looks to stretch their lead at the top of roll of honour.
Last year they won eight titles to move on to 178 in total. Having former world champions Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan compete this week will help bolster their chances of adding to their record haul. And the club’s masters’ women will share the same billing as Shane and Mark.
‘It’s incredible to be competing at the nationals, the standard of masters’ men and women has improved and we’re all looking forward to the weekend,’ Sharon adds.
The Skibbeeren squad for this weekend’s Irish Rowing Championships includes:
J14: Jessica Crowley, Moya Knowles, Blathin Barry, Niamh O’Donovan, Lousie Murran, Ailise O’Sullivan, Claire Griffin and Caitlyn O’Donovan.
J15: Sinead Coakley, Lucy Canon, Aleesha Hurley, Kelly Oferji, Aine Barry and Caoimhe Casey.
Senior women: Niamh Casey, Natalie Long, Aine McCarthy and Orla Hayes.
Masters women: Emily Dulohery, Sharon Murphy, Barbara Nugent, Janet Murran and Mags Fitzgerald.
J14: Dominic Casey and Gavin Coakley
J15: Jonathan McCarthy and Christopher O’Donovan.
J16: Eoin Murran, Eoghan Barry, Alan Cotter, Antonio Villas Luna, Cathal O’Donovan and Oisin Boyle.
J18: Shane Cotter, Daire Kavanagh, Finn O’Reilly, Sam Field and Jack Conway.
Senior men: Kealan Mannix, Aodhan Burns, Mark O’Donovan, Shane O’Driscoll,
Timmy Harnedy and John Whooley.