It is already a red-letter day for Team Ireland and particularly Rowing Ireland, as both the women’s and men’s lightweight double sculls crews booked places in Olympic finals within a matter of minutes of one another, writes Daragh Ó Conchúir.
This, in particular, is a tremendous comeback for the national rowing organisation, who were in disarray not too long ago as the golden era of Niall O’Toole, Sam Lynch, Gearoid Towey, Neville Maxwell and Tony O’Connor into memory.
There has been a significant improvement since the turn of the decade in particular however, and while Sanita Puspure was dreadfully unlucky not to make the A/B semi-final, there were no such problems for the European champions, Gary and Paul O’Donovan, or for Sinéad Lynch and Claire Lambe.
The women became Team Ireland’s first finalists of the Rio Games after a stunning performance. The Irish pair were not seeded to reach the final and on time, were participating in what was the more difficult semi-final.
The executed their race plan perfectly though, moving steadily in the opening 500, which they passed in fifth.
They pushed extremely hard from there and moved past Denmark. The momentum continued and approaching the three-quarter mark, had overtaken the Canadian crew of Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee for second.
The final 500 was a torturous affair as they dug deep. The Dutch crew of Ilse Paulis and Maaike Head were streaking way for a clear victory but as Ireland tired, Canada went past them and Denmark closed too.
But the Irish had done enough and in the end, had two seconds to spare, to guarantee their place in the final tomorrow.
It continues the fairytale story of Lynch, who as Sinead Jennings, was a world champion but never made the Olympics, going very close in cycling four years ago, when her sister Caitriona competed in the marathon.
With the support of her husband – the aforementioned double world champion and Olympic rower Sam Lynch – the 39-year-old mother-of-three is back and living the dream.
If there was an element of surprise about the qualification of the women, there was a degree of
expectations about the men, with the O’Donovan brothers from Skibbereen Rowing Club having claimed continental honours.
Their calm, laidback demeanour has earned them legions of new supporters as they invoke the spirit of “the craic”.
It was all business at Lagoa though and again, they rowed with real control in the first semi-final, going through the first quarter in fourth, just behind the Great Britain crew that included Northern Ireland sculler Richard Chambers, alongside Will Fletcher.
By the time the Irish reached the 1000, they had edged beyond GB but it was still four in contention for three entering the last 500, with France (Pierre Houin/Jeremie Azou) and USA (Josh Konieczny/Andrew Campbell Jnr) up ahead.
The British rallied but the O’Donovan brothers introduced their strong trademark finish that pulled them three seconds clear at the end and while third, they were just over a second behind the French pair and will be targeting a medal tomorrow.