THE conveyor belt in Skibbereen Rowing Club remains in good health.
18-year-old Lauren McCarthy-Steele was part of the Irish women’s quad that finished ninth at the World U19 Championships in Italy in August. There were two Skibbereen rowers in that boat, with Moya Knowles also part of the crew. They were joined by Kate Reidy (Lee RC) and Ayla O'Neill (Kenmare RC).
‘It was a good overall result for us,’ McCarthy-Steele told The Southern Star.
‘It was my first time at a junior worlds, so I was delighted with the result and delighted to even get there. Since coming home, it’s kind of given me an urge to go back and get more, to try for the U23 worlds. It was an exciting overall experience for me and the other girls.’
The Rosscarbery athlete also won a silver medal at the Coupe de la Jeunesse in 2021, so she has a taste for the international scene. ‘When I went to the Coupe, it was more of an experience I wanted to do to start my rowing for Ireland. That was definitely a good experience to understand what it’s really like to row internationally,’ she said.
McCarthy-Steele is following in some very famous footsteps. Skibbereen Rowing Club is a medal factory. It’s the playground for Olympians. Eugene Coakley. Timmy Harnedy. Richard Coakley. Paul O’Donovan. Gary O’Donovan. Fintan McCarthy. Emily Hegarty. Aoife Casey. Lydia Heaphy. The next generation has no shortage of role models to aspire to.
‘There has been so much success out of Skibbereen. It’s the club to be in. The drive there is to be successful and to go on further to row for Ireland. There’s good people around,’ McCarthy-Steele explained.
‘It really is great to be part of this club. In the winter, Lydia (Heaphy) was home and it was really good to be able to do training with her and I did a few trials with her.
‘It’s such an experience to train with someone who’s been to the Olympics. Just to be able to look up to them and get tips from them on how to get through the trials and how to go on further. They’ve gone through it themselves.’
A big inspiration for McCarthy-Steele, and many young sportswomen in fact, is Olympic bronze medal winner Emily Hegarty, who was part of the Irish women’s four that made history at the Olympics in Tokyo last summer.
‘Emily is definitely a big inspiration for a lot of girls in the club because she was the first female Olympic rower to get a medal. That was a big thing for the club and a lot of the girls would look up to her,’ she said.
‘Even training up in the National Rowing Centre during the summer and seeing her there, it was really cool and it was good to have that atmosphere around you in the rowing centre in Cork and down in Skibbereen.’
Another West Cork woman in the boat with McCarthy-Steele during the recent World U19s was Clonakilty’s Moya Knowles.
‘Myself and Moya, we get along really well. We started training together and competing against each other. We drive each other on. It’s good to have a lot of athletes around Skibb especially. I was very lucky to have Moya in my crew as well. We were there for each other,’ she said.
McCarthy Steele and Knowles are two young rowers making waves in rowing, following the path created by those Skibb athletes before her, like former Irish rower Denise Walsh.
‘I love to see young women coming up and wanting to row. I know that goes for other sports too, a lot of young girls want to start off other sports,’ she said.
‘Definitely in rowing, it’s a tough sport but it is very good to see the likes of myself (coming up). I was a junior women rower last year and looking up to the likes of Emily, Lydia and Aoife has been brilliant.’
So what is next for the Rosscarbery native?
‘I’d love to go to the U23 worlds next year, and I’ll start trialling at the end of October again. I’ll hopefully get selected next year but there will be a lot of work that has to be put in before that,’ she explained.
‘The big dream will obviously be the Olympics, but 2024 would be too soon. Definitely 2028 would be the big dream to get there and follow the other girls from Skibb that have gone and done it. It’s definitely something I’d love to be able to do.’
In recent weeks, two more Skibbereen rowers, Kelly Oforji (Clonakilty) with the junior women’s coxless four, and Christopher O’Donovan (Drimoleague), with the junior men’s coxed four, both rowed for Ireland as well. That conveyor belt is strong.