From Rio, Ewan MacKenna writes about Ireland's best hopes at an Olympic gold medal, highlight both of our rowing teams and their growing success.
The O’Donovan brothers are standing at the water’s edge, shooting the breeze like two lads sitting in the local catching up on some idle gossip.
Paul: “Christ, that interview [on RTÉ from the previous day] went out of hand there.
We didn’t think that would happen at all. We walked away thinking that was grand like, three of four questions.
Tis after doing this spiral thing anyway on the inter-web.”
Gary: “Tis good publicity anyway.”
Paul: “But tis all great anyway. We love the sport of rowing and would do anything we can to promote it and represent it and we are delighted we can be good ambassadors for the sport. Not just for Skibbereen but for the sport as a whole and it’s a huge honour.”
If you’d just wandered over, you’d never have guessed that they’d just made an Olympic medal race.
Coming third in the semi-final of the lightweight double sculls after burning Britain off across the last 500 metres and coming close to the top two crews, this was as important as it was refreshing.
After a week of heavy gloom, most emanating from the boxers, these Games seemed to be getting away from Ireland but suddenly there’s hope as rowing has come to the rescue.
It got better than just them however as in the previous race, Sinead Jennings and Claire Lambe were the first Irish boat to make a final.
In the women’s equivalent, they too came in third, and they too enter the final after posting the third fastest qualification time.
This after they chased down Denmark for the last qualification spot across the early stages, and once ahead of them they never looked like giving it up. With the finals at 2.32 and 2.44 Irish time, you can whisper it - there might be a medal or two that we never expected.
“We got into our rhythm early and once that happens we know we can row really well,” said Jennings.
“Olympic finalists, fantastic. It means all the sacrifices have been worthwhile, especially in the last year, being away from family and stuff. Like before that I was very nervous but Sam [Lynch her husband who came fourth at the Games 20 years ago] gave me a talk.
"He said we were good enough to get through. Once Sam tells me something, I believe that it’s possible but I just feel so happy for my parents and Sam’s parents who are looking after [my children] Clodagh, Molly and Hannah all this time and it feels like this is some sort of payback.
"I just saw my phone, 40 messages and I haven’t had a chance to look at any of them. It’s amazing.”
Her teammate Lambe was also paying tribute to the support network that has gotten them here.
“It’s so good, I’ve so many supporters here in the stands, it’s so cool that they all came out to Rio. We are getting so many messages from home, I hope getting through is some little thank you for all the help and support they’ve given us.
"And here too, we are sharing an apartment with Sanita [Puspure who agonisingly missed a final sport earlier in the week], and we feel like we are a three-boat. It feels like her hardship is our hardship.
"It was devastating to see what happened her because she’s a world-class athlete.
"But now, the final, they are crews we raced before and obviously they are in pretty good form. But they aren’t unbeatable. We are all weighing in at 57 kilos and there are no super-humans out there.”
Tell that to those looking on, including Sam Lynch who followed his wife’s race by jogging along the grandstand screaming on support.
But if both crews have nothing to lose, they’ve suddenly so much to win ahead of a day no Irish fans here would initially have chalked down in their diary as one for the Lagoa Stadium.
“We will get the recovery right anyway and stay calm and relaxed and take it easy for the evening,” said Gary O’Donovan.
“We will rest up and come down and go as fast as we can from start to finish. We will take things as they come. It doesn’t really bother us that we are in an Olympic final. It was in our heads all year that it was going to happen.
"I know we didn’t act like it. We kind of kept it cool. But it is more natural now that we have made it- thankfully.It is just another race – we will go from start to finish as fast as we can.”
Meanwhile as his brother is told they’ll be in the first lane, he shrugs and then smiles. “Not bad. We’ll take it! Number one. We will try to keep it going. But we’ve to run for a bus anyway now...”
Just another day ahead of their biggest day.
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