The granny credited by Ireland’s Olympic rowing heroes for fuelling them through tough winter training sessions has dismissed rumours of a secret recipe.

“The secret is there is no secret,” Gary and Paul O’Donovan’s grandmother, Mary Doab, insisted yesterday.

Gary has been living with his grandmother in Ballincollig, Co Cork, for the last four years while studying at CIT while Paul moved in last year as they both stepped up Olympic training at the National Rowing Centre in Farran, a few miles west of the town.

The Skibbereen Rowing Club duo, who rowed their way to an historic Olympic silver last Friday, and who went viral with their ‘shteak and spuds’ interview, cook their own steaks, their mother revealed. They like it rare, Trish said.

But they praised their granny’s soup and brown bread which, they said, got them through tough training sessions at the rowing centre.

They also said she makes a fantastic roast lamb dinner on Sundays. Sitting in her front room yesterday still festooned with bunting, Paul and Gary’s European silver and gold medals dangling from the sideboard, Mary played down her role in their success and said anybody can make the same soup and brown bread.

“Anybody can make it. It’s just brown bread. I’ve been baking brown bread since I was 12, at home, in the bastible, when there were no ovens,” she said. “And the soup is mushroom or vegetable, depends on the day. But there’s no packet stuff whatsoever. They got a flask each going off to the training each morning.

“But anybody can do soup as well. There’s no skill attached to baking brown bread and making soup.

“You’ve got a pair of hands the same as me. You can go up to the shop and buy gorgeous fresh veg, lovely carrots and parsnips, all Irish, don’t be buying those things coming in from Spain.”

Mary who has five other grandchildren and six great grandchildren, said she is delighted for Paul and Gary.

“I know what they put in to it. I know how hard they worked. But I’m terribly proud of all my grandchildren. I love them all to bits equally.

“And even if Gary and Paul didn’t win a medal, I’d still have been incredibly proud of them.”

And the international rowing community should take heed - the family could be set to produce another generation of Olympic rowers.

“They’re all (the great grand children) going to take it (rowing) up now. They’re waiting for Gary and Paul to come back, because the lads promised to take them training with them,” she said.

Hero rowers’ mother starts saving for Tokyo

Trish O’Donovan, the mother of Olympic silver medal winners Gary and Paul, with their granmother Mary Doab who makes them brown bread and soup at her house in Ballincollig which the lads use as a base when they train at the National Rowing Centre. Picture: Dan Linehan
Trish O’Donovan, the mother of Olympic silver medal winners Gary and Paul, with their granmother Mary Doab who makes them brown bread and soup at her house in Ballincollig which the lads use as a base when they train at the National Rowing Centre. Picture: Dan Linehan

She started saving for Rio in 2008 when her Olympic rowing hero sons won gold at under-18 level in the Homes International Regatta in Cardiff.

And as she touched down in Cork Airport yesterday after watching them make Olympic history last Friday, Paul and Gary O’Donovan’s exhausted but elated mother, Trish, confirmed she’s already planning to be at the Tokyo 2020 games to watch her boys win gold.

“In 2008 they made the Irish team as juniors and they went to the Home Internationals in Cardiff,” she said. “They stormed it in Cardiff and got the gold. That was when I started saving. I said they are going to the Olympics – they are not going to stop. Every week I went up to [Skibbereen] Credit Union and put in a few saving stamps. Did I get pleasure in cashing them in.

“I don’t care now if I have to strap myself onto the wing of the plane for Tokyo, I’m going there.”

Mary arrived into Cork Airport’s arrivals hall just after 11am yesterday having travelled from Rio with her fiancé, Mick McCabe and her sons’ godmother, Kathleen Kiely-Wingate.

She said they were treated to champagne on both the British Airways and Aer Lingus flights. Strangers at the airport offered them congratulations, with shouts of ‘up Skibbereen’. Even the loss of some of their luggage en route didn’t dampen their spirits. Mary joked: “They didn’t even look at our passports at the check in desks - they said sure you’re all over the place, we know ‘tis ye coming back.”

Watching her boys take Olympic silver in Lagoa last week was a dream come true, she said, and she believes the half second gap between first and second can be bridged.

“They wanted it [gold]. They nearly had it. But, what harm? I do think because the way the race was put back it cost them. If they had a day of rest before the final it would have been theirs. They want the gold and they know they have the making of it [for Tokyo].”

But she is confident the success and global attention won’t change her sons, whose interviews have gone viral. “Their feet will stay on the ground – absolutely. You can see that. They will take this in their stride.”

Asked about the female attention her sons are likely to attract, she said: “They will have to go through me first. I will have to vet them all first. But they will all have to be athletes. No one else would understand them.”

Trish left the airport and visited her mother, Mary, at her home in Ballincollig before heading for Skibbereen. She said she has some sense of the excitement at home but said getting home will be magic. “The reaction at home has been incredible. We weren’t even out of the airport when people in Lisheen and Skibbereen were texting me to ask could they make an appointment to give me a hug,” she said.

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