The Irish crew of Gearoid Towey, Eugene Coakley, Richard Archibald and Paul Griffin performed very strongly throughout the race which was won by China in a time of 5.49.43, with France in second place 1.5 seconds behind, just snatching silver from the Irish four by a mere nine hundredths of a second.
Although they had to accept the disappointment of being caught on the line by the French, the Irish were at least able to reflect on a great season which saw them win the World Cup as well as securing a second consecutive top three placing in the World Championships.
Afterwards a beaming Gearoid Towey said: “That was a really tough race; we went for it, though, right from the start; we needed to, to be in with a chance. We’re delighted to win the medal; it’s a brilliant way to top off an amazing season for us.”
Stroke man Paul Griffin was equally pleased. “Two world championships; two medals; that’s not easily done; it’s a record we’re very proud of and we’re right on track for Beijing which is the most important thing; that’s what it’s all about.” he said.
In an epic battle the eventual medallists drew clear from the remainder of the field — including Canada, Australia and Great Britain — by the 500 metre mark and at that point the Irish four were leading by the just 0.3 of a second.
All three crews couldn’t be separated at 750 metres but, at the halfway point, the Chinese four pushed on and stole the lead. Entering the enclosure, the deafening roars from the huge travelling support inspired the Irish crew to up their rate in an attempt to catch the Chinese, but as the line approached defending world champions France came charging through the middle to snatch silver.
Ireland’s Eugene Coakley spoke of the four’s appreciation of the support: “I’ve never heard a crowd like it, we couldn’t believe it; we still can’t. We’ve never had that before and it really helped us. In fact, it meant so much to do it in front of them.”
An additional benefit of this superb success for the four is a 25% medal bonus of €7,500 each under the Irish Sports Council’s International Carding Scheme.
Earlier on yesterday, the lightweight women’s double (LW2x) of Donegal’s Sinéad Jennings and Offaly’s Niamh Ní Cheilleachair repeated the feat of their male team mates by impressively winning their B final this morning and finishing 7th overall.
The pairing were determined to perform to their best after the disappointment of missing out on the A final. As with the men’s four, seventh at next year’s world championships would crucially secure Olympic qualification. “We knew we had to go with them today; the conditions are very fast,” said medical student Jennings. “Our plan was to stay in touch in the first 500 metres, lay down a mark from there and start pushing through; that’s our strength. We wanted to stick with what we’re good at and the middle 1,000 is where we grind it out.”
Jennings and Ní Cheilleachair’s start was much improved on the semi-final and they took up the lead at halfway in what was a particularly strong field. They were never headed from that point, and comfortably led the charge to the line, significantly ahead of Poland, USA and Germany; crews which were fourth, second and first respectively in last year’s world championship final.
The duo also singled out the massive travelling Irish support as having a particularly positive influence on their performance. “The Irish crowd took us home. We couldn’t lose at that stage when we heard them shouting for us,” remarked Jennings with a broad smile.
For her part, Ní Cheilleachair said: “It’s not going to be that hard to face the winter after this. A lot of the hard work is done in the winter on our own. It is usually long and there’s a lot of repetition. But it’s definitely not going to be that hard to face it now.”
The Irish team arrive back into Dublin Airport this afternoon at 1.25pm.