A LITTLE bit daunting, but a brilliant experience – that’s how Finn O’Reilly describes hopping into a boat with three of Ireland’s top rowers, all from Skibbereen, at last month’s national championships.
O’Reilly won three national titles at junior men’s 19 level at the recent championships, but he’ll never forget finishing second in the senior men’s quad.
Joining him in that Skibbereen boat was freshly-crowned Olympic champion Fintan McCarthy, Fintan’s twin brother Jake McCarthy and 2016 Olympic silver medallist Gary O’Donovan, with both Fintan and Gary also World champions at different times, too.
‘I had never rowed with any of them before,’ O’Reilly says, ‘and in one sense it was a little bit stressful because I was sitting in the boat with these three rowers who have achieved so much whereas I was only 18 years old, but they were so positive and helpful and made it easier for me.
‘I was sitting in the seat thinking I need to give this absolutely everything because if I don’t they are going to know. You feel like you need to show them that you can hold your own so it was a little bit daunting, but a brilliant experience.’
The Skibbereen quad finished second behind a UCC boat powered by Paul O’Donovan, but it handed O’Reilly, now 19, a front-row seat to watch some of the best rowers in the world, including Olympic gold medallist Fintan McCarthy, do what they do best.
‘It’s even the little pointers that they were able to tell me before the race and in the warm-up, and to help with the set-up; they are all so experienced,’ O’Reilly explains.
‘It’s their attitude as well, it’s so positive, and when we were on the water it was all about working as hard as we can and seeing where that takes us. The stress and pressure I felt left when we were on the water and it was a great environment for me to learn in.’
O’Reilly, living in Kilcoe outside Skibbereen, finished the weekend with three national titles at men’s junior 19 level. He won with Oisin Boyle in the men’s junior 19 pair and with Daire Kavanagh in the men’s junior 19 double. There was success, too, with Oisin Boyle, Daire Kavanagh and Christopher O’Sullivan and cox Louise Murran in the men’s junior 19 four. It comes after a breakthrough summer for the young Skibb rower who won a silver medal at the World Rowing U23 Championships in the Czech Republic. He was part of the Irish coxed men’s four – along with Andrew Sheehan, Ryan Spelman, Adam Murphy and Leah O’Regan (cox) – that finished second in their A final.
‘It was my first world championships so the experience alone was great to get and winning a medal made it that much better,’ says O’Reilly, who, standing six foot three inches tall, will pursue the heavyweight route.
‘The standard of racing was a lot different to what I had experienced, because it’s the best crews from every country so it’s good to know how far you have to race to get to the top. All the regattas I was at before were domestic so there is an element of fun around them whereas on race day at the World U23s you need to be serious from the second you wake up to the second you cross the finish line.’
That World U23 medal is a boost. It’s something real to show for his efforts and, he says, will make getting into the boat on a cold winter’s morning that little bit easier. This will be a busy month for O’Reilly. The former Schull Community College student is starting college and also joining up with the Rowing Ireland development squad as he works hard to keep climbing the ladder. His training will be based at the National Rowing Centre in Farran Wood – and it’s an exciting next step that he feels he’s ready to make.