'You've made the whole country very proud': Ireland basks in Olympics rowing success

'You've made the whole country very proud': Ireland basks in Olympics rowing success

Rowing Ireland coach Ciro Prisco congratulates Emily Hegarty after the Ireland Women’s Four fininshed in third place to win a bronze medal in the Women’s Four final at the Sea Forest Waterway. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

It was a proud nation that woke up on Wednesday to see that four of our finest athletes had secured Ireland's first medal in the Tokyo Olympics.

With 1,500m gone in the women's four rowing final, Emily Hegarty, Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe and Fiona Murtagh found themselves neck-and-neck with Team GB.

With just 0.2 seconds between the two, the four Irish women dug deep and never allowed their confidence to be shaken.

With an unerring sense of determination, they pulled ahead and crossed the finish line 1.06 seconds ahead of Team GB to take third place.

They placed themselves firmly in the history books getting Ireland's first Olympic rowing medal in the four and the first ever Olympic rowing medal for Irish women.

While many watched from the edge of their seats in the small hours of the morning, the majority of people woke up to the welcome sight of Aifric, Eimear, Fiona and Emily beaming as they showed off their medals and embracing each other.

Due to the pandemic, there is a bittersweet element to these Games as the families and friends of the rowers were among those watching the race unfold on a tv screen here in Ireland.

Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty of Team Ireland celebrate winning the bronze medal during the Women’s Four Final A at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Picture: Naomi Baker/Getty Images
Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty of Team Ireland celebrate winning the bronze medal during the Women’s Four Final A at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Picture: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The overwhelming joy and pride has eclipsed the sadness felt by the families as they celebrate their success and eagerly await their return.

Emily's family watched from their home in Skibbereen and while her dad said travelling with her to Japan would have been the chance of a lifetime, there had been a great buzz in the local community.

Jerry Hegarty admitted there were some nerves as the boat didn't get off to the quickest of starts.

"They usually finish really strong but if things start to go wrong halfway it is very easy to mentally let it throw you off," said Mr Hegarty.

Sport can be cruel, he says, noting that when it comes to big days like this, people don't always get the finish they deserve.

He credits the women with having a steely resolve and a fighting spirit which is what helped them over the line on the day.

"Whether that brings you to third or fourth or fifth, once you fight to the end. I love that. Once you gave it your best."

The four are not only teammates but good friends and that is something that helps them to get through the tough days and the intense training.

He quotes Emily as saying once: "I'm in a boat with three girls who will fight within an inch of their lives."

Family members of Skibbereen's Emily Hegarty celebrating the win: dad Jerry, mum Mary and brother Dermot with dog Milly. Picture: Denis Boyle
Family members of Skibbereen's Emily Hegarty celebrating the win: dad Jerry, mum Mary and brother Dermot with dog Milly. Picture: Denis Boyle

The proud father knows what an athlete Emily is but acknowledges that "she is with three brilliant athletes" and praises the team's coaches and management with helping them to reach Tokyo.

The team had done what some considered to be the impossible by confirming their collective slot in the boat in national trials in March, claiming a silver at the Europeans weeks later, and then booking their places in Japan with a superb effort at the World Rowing regatta in May.

Sean Murran, Chairperson of Skibbereen Rowing Club, said the crew's rapid improvement throughout the year created the belief that they could medal in Tokyo.

"They managed to deliver on that expectation," said Mr Murran. It was a "magical moment" to see club rower Emily and the rest of the women's 4 receive their medals. He also commended lightweight women's sculls double Aoife Casey and Margaret Cremen who had "rowed with great skill and guts".

President Michael D Higgins was among those singing the bronze medallists' praises extending his congratulations on "a well-deserved bronze medal" while Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the women had brought great joy to the people of Ireland.

"You’ve made Cork, Dublin, Galway and the whole country very proud this morning," Mr Martin said.

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