Gary and Paul thrilled to win popular sports award
BY KIERAN McCARTHY
THEY’VE won several national awards off the back of their 2016 Olympic heroics – but winning the 2016 West Cork Sports Star of the Year award is the one that means the most to Gary and Paul O’Donovan.
The Lisheen brothers were announced as the overall award winners at last Saturday’s gala night in the Celtic Ross Hotel, and this coveted West Cork honour was the icing on the cake for the Skibb rowers.
‘This is the best award to win,’ world single sculls champion Paul said.
‘We said it last year after we came back to Ireland, but as we got closer to home the less people cared about the medals and the more they cared about us. The people here are closer to us, they know us and how hard we work, and we like it that way.’
Gary admits that the West Cork Sports Star of the Year award is one he has had his eye on for some time, especially as former Skibbereen Rowing Club Olympians, Timmy Harnedy and Eugene Coakley, won the overall award twice.
‘There’s a nice relationship with people at home, we know everyone and it’s very personal,’ Gary said.
‘The big awards we get around the country are nice as well – but there is something about being recognised close to home.
‘We have been coming here and receiving monthly awards for years. People like Eugene and Timmy have their names on the winner’s wall in the lobby. I remember coming in years ago and seeing their names on the wall twice and I was thinking that it would be cool if I could do that someday.
‘A couple of years of hard training and a lot of encouragement from the people around us, and here we are.’
Gary also feels that the strength of sports people in West Cork across a variety of disciplines separate these sports awards from the rest – plus these awards have honoured the brothers’ achievements before the national media ever turned its head to the south west.
‘These are the awards that have been honouring us for the past number of years, ever since we started rowing as youngsters,’ Gary said.
‘There are some years where we don’t even get a monthly award because there is so much talent in West Cork. We have been in the running for the overall award a few times but this is the first time we’ve won it – and we had to win Olympic medals to do that! – so that just shows the calibre of athletes down here in West Cork.’
Their coach, Dominic Casey, was surprised with the West Cork Sports Star Hall of Fame award for his contribution to the sport both as a rower and a coach – and Gary and Paul were thrilled to see him honoured.
‘It’s a good thing that he didn’t know anything about it because he probably wouldn’t have shown up if he did know!’ Gary quipped.
‘It’s something special for Dominic and he deserves that and it’s also great for the rowing club because it really does deserve all the credit that it gets. Before any of our success in the past year the rowing club has been doing phenomenal things, it’s been one of the most successful clubs in any sport in the country in the last few years.
‘As proud as myself and Paul are, I’m sure anyone who has ever been through the door of the rowing club and have trained under Dominic will feel proud that he is after winning this award and that the athletes that are involved in the club get the recognition as well. It’s not just about the three of us here, there is a lot more to it to that – there are all the athletes, the people who help out behind the scenes.’
Expanding Gary’s last point, Dominic feels that the rowing as a sport benefits from the awards that any rowers win.
‘It highlights the sport and it keeps rowing out there in the public eye,’ Dominic said.
‘After the lads’ success last year and all the publicity that followed, rowing is more popular in Ireland than ever before, there are more people joining rowing clubs all over the country than ever before so awards like this is great for the sport of rowing.’
The O’Donovans and other members of the Irish set-up are just back from a training camp in Seville that went well.
‘The great thing about going down to the south of Spain training is that we get the security of the good weather down there. There is no guarantee with the weather here at home and that we can get on the water every day – but in Spain we have the weather and we do nothing else only row and eat and sleep. It’s intense but it has to be. We got through a lot of work,’ Gary said.