Skibbereen: Population: 2,000; 2016 Olympic Silver medal winners: 2; Time it took to win those medals: 6 minutes 31.23 seconds; Amount of celebratory sculling done in the West Cork town last night: Nobody’s business.
It’s not often a rowing club can lay claim to having created five Olympians in the space of 16 years but there’s definitely not another in Ireland that can say it produced a duo so good that they won our first Olympic medals for rowing, and did so in style, gliding from fifth at the halfway mark to second at the line.
But then not every club is lucky enough to have a coach like Dominic Casey, whose dedication is so great that he built most of the weights used in the rowing club gym by the Brothers O’Donovan, as well as building a trailer to transport boats and spending the best part of the last six months with the two young men who finally lifted us from our Olympic-sized doom and gloom.
And so Dominic, and Paul (22) and Gary (23) O’Donovan were the toast of not just their home of Lisheen last night, or the town of Skibbereen but of every home in the country, after they stepped on to that podium in Rio to the strains of Amhrán na bhFiann.
And what no one should forget is their achievement is against a backdrop of just €300,000 to Rowing Ireland while British rowing benefited to the tune of £27 million (€31m).
And the men that started the rowing club that everyone in the country has now heard of were there yesterday, in the thick of it, at Skibbereen Credit Union, where staff went all out to create a Rio-style carnival and where the heat in a packed upstairs room where throngs gathered before a giant screen was so intense that all we needed was a little bit of wind. Because on these shores, We’re Well Used to a Bit of Wind.
Or so read the T-shirts of the O’Donovan brothers’ many supporters who offered that little gem during an interview about windy rowing conditions in Rio.
Nuala Lupton, president of Skibbereen Rowing Club, was also in the thick of it.
“It is the biggest day in the club’s history. I am overcome, I’m a nervous wreck all day. We were just delighted to get to the final and we’d have taken any medal, whatever colour,” she said.
Nuala, who trained Dominic Casey in rowing back in the day and Teddy O’Donovan, the famous pair’s father, was herself a keen oarswoman, narrowly missing out on the ’76 Montreal Olympics.
TJ Ryan, club secretary, was tired and emotional.
“It’s probably the proudest day of my long involvement with the club (and there have been World Championship successes). There had been many good days in the past, numerous club titles, but this will finally finish out the medals’ cabinet, until of course the O’Donovans go to Tokyo in 2020 and bring home gold.”
Meanwhile, over in Brazil last night, the O’Donovan brothers washed down their success with some Nutella and pizza.
“We haven’t had a bite to eat since after the weigh-in, we had a bread roll with some Nutella but I believe they are on the way with some pizza for us,” said Gary.
Tributes to the rowing duo were led by President Michael D Higgins, who said the brothers had captured the nation’s imagination.
“On behalf of the people of Ireland, I want to congratulate Paul and Gary O’Donovan on a silver medal today — Ireland’s first ever Olympic rowing medal. They have captured the nation’s imagination and their skill, determination and positive outlook make them outstanding ambassadors for their sport, and for their community long into the future.
“Their success today will encourage young men and women all around Ireland to participate in sport,” said President Higgins.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny described their medal as a “wonderful achievement.”
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