Ronan Byrne enjoying life home away from home

The Cork rower had spent enough time on the erg machine in his living room long before home became a full-time training base but his idea of freedom now is a different stripe of solitude.
Ronan Byrne enjoying life home away from home

Philip Doyle, left, with Ronan Byrne following their victory in the Men's Double Sculls A Final at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Linz, Austria. Photo by Andreas Pranter/Gepa Pictures/Sportsfile
Philip Doyle, left, with Ronan Byrne following their victory in the Men's Double Sculls A Final at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Linz, Austria. Photo by Andreas Pranter/Gepa Pictures/Sportsfile

Everyone saw a different light at the end of the tunnel when lockdown was eased. For some it was the chance to ramble again in a favourite wood or rediscover a beloved beach. For others it was the prospect of queuing for hours to buy furniture from IKEA or a Big Mac from the drive-thru on the edge of town.

Each to their own and all that.

Ronan Byrne was as sick of the restrictions as anyone. The Cork rower had spent enough time on the erg machine in his living room long before home became a full-time training base but his idea of freedom now is a different stripe of solitude.

Home since last Monday is one of the houses in Lee Valley Golf Club where the country's elite rowers are in a sort of cocooned environment that would strike most of us as just another version of purgatory. Not him. Or his housemates.

The key here is that the National Rowing Centre down the road has re-opened its doors. After months of virtual races and Zoom sessions they are back on the water. In many respects, life isn't all that different to how it would be if they were in a training camp abroad in more normal times.

“It feels kind of similar,” Byrne said. “The camp now, there is literally very little to do other than rowing. The only contact you would have with back home is via social media. We are still kind of isolated but being in your own country and knowing your surroundings makes it easier. You can still keep up to date with current affairs or whatever and even something small like knowing what you are looking for in a supermarket is another positive. We would go to some countries there and you go to the supermarket and you can't find anything you want. So small things like that make it a bit simpler.”

He moved in at the start of the week as part of the first wave. Others have followed and more will again next week until virtually all of the senior high-performance squad is on site. Byrne is sharing with Eimear Lamb, Tara Hanlon, Aileen Crowley and Natalie Long.

He brought a few hurleys with him and passes some of their spare time teaching his housemates how to puck a sliotar. The pity given his location is that he doesn't play golf, apart from the odd rounds of pitch and putt or Crazy Golf on holidays in Lanzarote.

It's not quite business as usual, of course.

Rowing is restricted for now to single sculls and, while they can do cardio in the gym, the weights are out of bounds.

When they will all be back competing isn't yet certain but Byrne, who turned 22 at the end of April, has time on his side. His plan was always to continue on beyond Tokyo this summer anyway so a one-year delay hasn't significantly altered his plans.

What it might do is add another year onto his nutrition course in UCC but others have had to make more sweeping changes. Philip Doyle, his partner in the double sculls, had paused his medical career for the Games but has now returned to work at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry. The pair claimed silver at the World Championships last year and qualified the boat for Tokyo. They would have been going to Japan with an eye on the podium but it will be December now before Doyle finishes this block of work and returns to the high-performance unit.

The Olympics, if it happens, will hear the gun just eight months later.

“It will be an issue we take note of alright because we won't have had the whole year or the whole winter,” said Byrne, “but when we won silver in 2019 Philip only came down at some stage in March so we missed the whole winter together.

“We were still training but we had very little time in the boat between the Worlds in 2018 in September and then March of last year. I'd say we rowed once together in that time so we do click back in together quickly enough. “We know each other's styles and the coaches will be working hard with us on that.”

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