Paul and Gary O'Donovan make a splash at 2017 Indoor Rowing Championships

The stand and temporary seating were packed and the star attractions didn’t disappoint as Skibbereen’s O’Donovan brothers lit up the 2017 Indoor Rowing Championships at the University of Limerick on Saturday.

Paul and Gary O'Donovan make a splash at 2017 Indoor Rowing Championships

Paul and Gary finished first and second, respectively, in the lightweight men’s open class, with Paul setting a new Irish record of 6 mins 7.4 seconds for 2,000m, 0.1 of a second faster than he achieved in 2016. Gary followed with a time of 6 minutes 14.2 seconds, 0.4 of a second better than his time last year.

To most of us, that may not sound like a lot, but it’s obvious that, five months on from their historic silver medal win at the Rio Olympics, the O’Donovans are maintaining a superb level of consistency. It’s an exciting thought heading into the 2017 season.

The outstanding performance of the day, however, came from heavyweight rower Sam McKeown of Queen’s University, Belfast. He was easily the fastest athlete on the day, breaking the much sought-after six minute mark with a time of 5:55 over 2,000m.

He had already managed to cover this distance in just under six minutes mark shortly before Christmas (5:59), hence his confidence heading into the championships.

Nevertheless, to shave a further four seconds off his time in such a short period is an incredible feat. The high performance rower, who represented Ireland at U23 level last year, looked in control throughout the performance.

Dáire Lynch of Clonmel RC continued his impressive form, winning the U23 men’s competition, beating Dan Begley of Shandon by 0.1 of a second, while UCD man Shane O’Connell, another exciting up-and-coming athlete, won the U23 lightweight grade in a tight battle with Jake and Fintan McCarthy, another set of Skibbereen brothers.

Ross Corrigan from Enniskillen Royal College was the fastest junior, covering the 2,000m distance in 6:21.3, while Hannah Scott of Bann RC took the equivalent female title, an achievement made even more special this year as Olympic rower Sanita Puspure had donated her Irish one-piece (rowing suit) as a prize to fastest junior woman in the 2,000m contest.

Sanita herself was the fastest woman, clocking 6:40 with a steady performance that put her 12.6 seconds ahead of her nearest rival, Killorglin’s Monika Dukarska, who set a personal best.

Sanita’s Rio team-mate Claire Lambe also competed. While she rowed in the lightweight women’s double with partner Sinead Lynch (nee Jennings) at the 2016 Olympics, she competed on this occasion as a heavyweight.

It’s a difficult transition to make, but the Dublin woman put in a strong performance and recorded a time of 7:11.4, which saw her pipped in the U23 category by her sister Eimear, who finished 0.5 of a second quicker. Claire is currently rowing for the University of Cambridge as she studies there full-time. Emily Hegarty of Skibbereen was by far the top woman at U23 level, clear of second place by over 12 seconds.

Meanwhile, former Ireland para-rower Karol Doherty (City of Derry) took gold in the AS (Arms and Shoulders) category with a creditable time of 9:31 over 2,000m.

Meanwhile, between preparations for the compulsory Indoor Championships and a rigorous training camp in Seville over the Christmas, a group of the country’s top rowers are hosting a special charity event in aid of Pieta House, the suicide and self-harm crisis centre.

The ‘Run To Row’ event, hosted by international rowers Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll, along with two-time Olympian Sanita Puspure, takes place this Sunday at the National Rowing Centre (NRC) in Cork, with prizes for families and for individuals who take part.

The rowers have organised a fun run through Farran Woods, followed by a team relay on rowing machines in the NRC, situated within the forest park. Registration is from 10am, with the run beginning about 10.45am over a choice of 1km, 2km, and 3.5km routes along wooded trails.

The rowing follows at around 12pm, with three relay categories: A 1,000m family row (two adults, two children), a 1,000m team row (four adults) and a 400m U16 row.

The event promises to be a lot of fun and with free tea and coffee provided, along with a barbeque by Ó Crualaoí Butchers. All funds raised will go to Pieta House, which provides a free therapeutic approach to people who are in suicidal distress and those who engage in self-harm.

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