‘Gary and Paul’s crew’ come out in force to welcome O'Donovan brothers home to Cork

Brothers Paul and Gary O'Donovan received a heroes' welcome home at Cork Airport last evening. Picture: Jim Coughlan

You can imagine the type of conversation between the blue and green channels in Arrivals as the O’Donovan brothers ambled through last night.

“Anything to declare?” they would be asked. “Well, two Olympic silver medals, the World Championship gold...”

As it happens, Gary and Paul O'Donovan were afforded the VIP treatment as they landed in Cork last night, complete with fast tracked luggage, back after a globe-trotting few weeks which has turned them into national heroes.

It’s understood the captain of the flight was heard to say: “Our VIPs are asleep on board but we’ll give them a hard landing to wake them up.”

They were welcomed by a water cannon salute, as the touched down after a globe-trotting few weeks which has turned them into national heroes.

The Olympic medal winning brothers, and just over 20 other members of the Irish rowing team who competed at the world championships in Rotterdam where Paul struck gold, touched down at Cork Airport on board Aer Lingus flight EI845 from Amsterdam around 9.20pm - not the first time the brothers have been ahead of schedule.

‘Gary and Paul’s crew’ come out in force to welcome O'Donovan brothers home to Cork

Someone - surely one of the brothers - was cheekily taking pictures of the crowd of hundreds from over the blurred glass, but it was the other members of Ireland's rowing crew first through the doors, greeted by roars and cheers.

Then just after 10pm, the boys themselves, each wrapped in the tricolour. They seemed genuinely overwhelmed at the near hysterical reaction.

Paul said: "We are absolutely delighted to be home and it's incredible to see so many people out supporting us.

"It's breathtaking, really, we never thought going away to Rio that we would be coming back to this."

The pair were also presented with, you guessed it, some steak and spuds, Gary hoisting the bag of potatoes over his head like a trophy. The brothers said they expect it to be "mad" in Skibbereen tomorrow; if so, this welcome was an excellent primer.

The arrivals hall had been filling up for hours ahead of their arrival, with many wearing T-shirts bearing the words: Gary and Paul’s crew... we’re well used to a bit of wind.”

One of the co-founders of Skibbereen Rowing Club, Richard Hosford, was in badge and blazer. “We dreamt of it, I must admit that we dreamt of it,” he admitted of the O’Donovans’ success.

Elsewhere in the terminal, it was a full-on family reunion, led by five aunties. One, Phil Hurley, joked: “Everyone in Skibbereen is claiming to be an O’Donovan — or related to one.”

‘Gary and Paul’s crew’ come out in force to welcome O'Donovan brothers home to Cork

Another Aunt, Regina Coombes, said she last saw Gary and Paul at a family gathering at the start of July, before the madness. “They were stretched out, relaxing,” she said, although she added that the laidback attitude didn’t extend to training. “They are coming back with the goods,” she said with pride.

Speaking shortly before they were to board the plane in Holland, Gary and Paul’s father, Teddy, who introduced his sons to rowing, said it would be good to get home after a few weeks away.

“We had a good World Championships but it will be nice to get back,” he said, adding that while he was also in Brazil, he had managed a few days at home before heading to Rotterdam. “It couldn’t be any better,” he said of the time his boys spent away.

‘Gary and Paul’s crew’ come out in force to welcome O'Donovan brothers home to Cork

Also on board were Paul and Gary’s team mates from Skibbereen Rowing Club, Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan, who placed just outside the medals in Rotterdam, coming fourth in their final of the lightweight men’s pairs.

The airport’s Fire and Rescue Service provided the aircraft with a water canon salute as it taxied to its parking stand.

On landing the O’Donovans were then whisked to the airport’s VIP area where they were met by Richard Hosford, the honorary president of Skibbereen Rowing Club, Nuala Lupton, the club’s president, Con Cronin, the president of Rowing Ireland, its secretary, Frank Coghlan, and by its chief executive officer, Hamish Adams, who is based at the National Rowing Centre in Farran, Cork, where the brothers did most of their intensive pre-Olympic training.

‘Gary and Paul’s crew’ come out in force to welcome O'Donovan brothers home to Cork

“We had been known as one of the best kept secrets in Irish sport. We have produced six world champions but we weren’t winning Olympic medals. Paul and Gary’s success in Rio has definitely put us on the map, and taken the sport to another level,” Mr Adams said.

The brothers then entered the airport arrivals hall where they received a thunderous welcome from their enthusiastic supporters, before they made their way to West Cork.

They will give a press conference at Skibbereen Rowing Club at lunchtime today, before they are paraded on an open-top bus through Skibbereen tonight for a massive welcome home party.

The route home last night was marked by signs offering hearty congratulations, wood carvings of rowers were on display in Leap, a crossed set of oars by the roadside in Ballinascarthy, and more. Better get used to it, lads.

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