Four rowers react: 'They have the same spirit as the Kilkenny hurlers, get stuck in and work, no nonsense'

In the moments after Gary and Paul O’Donovan’s silver medal glory yesterday afternoon, Gavin Spillane spoke to four former rowing Olympians to find out what this means to them and their sport.

Neville Maxwell, Atlanta 1996 (4th)

“I’m so happy — 20 years we’ve been waiting for this. They’ve finally broken the duck in terms of Olympic Games, we’ve been winning world medals for 20 years and at last we’ve got that Olympic medal.

“They were brilliant. They did exactly like they talked about. Now we have rowers who are winning Olympic medals, it has taken it to another level.

“Believe it or not, it’s an amateur sport. These guys were doing exams, sending in reports to college back in March but they train hard.

“It’s a brilliant reward for them and their coach Dominic Casey for all the rowers who have nearly got there, this is such an inspiration. They’ve showed that it’s possible.

Niall O’Toole, Athens 2004 (6th)

“The most important result in the history of Irish rowing, it’s extraordinary. It has taken the monkey off our back that has been there for years.

“I’ve been in an Olympic final myself and I’ve felt that monkey. Like many crews before me, it was a bridge too far.

“I don’t think these guys fully understand the magnitude of the win and what they’ve done for the sport and the country. It’s huge, we’ve been here so many times and we’ve had so many near-misses. They’ve turned rowing on its head. This sport will never be the same again.

“We’ve always said we would do it and we’ve never done it. Then these guys have done it in such a calm way and they’ve inspired hundreds of children. I’m just so happy I can’t believe it.

“They have the most uncomplicated way of performing; just pull and keep the head down. Beautiful simplicity, it’s what sport is about.

“It’s a testament to what (coach) Dominic (Casey) has done, money can’t buy that. There’s no amount of performance directors or people you can fly in for that.

“It’s a big win for Ireland but more of a win for Skibbereen. I hope they have statues for them around Cork and Dublin, these guys are legends.

Willie Ryan, Montreal 1976 (7th); Moscow 1980 (7th)

“It’s very hard to explain how much it means to me. The first silver medal for Irish rowing and it couldn’t happen to two nicer fellas.

“I know them well and their coach Dominic Casey, it’s fabulous for Skibbereen - it’s really a win for family, club and country.

“What Skibbereen have done for rowing over the years is unreal, so many championships won. They were so close in Beijing, and three of them were from Skibbereen, such a small club.

“I’m delighted for West Cork, it couldn’t happen to two nicer people, unassuming with no airs and graces about them. They’re totally down to earth and nothing fazes them.

“It has to be a fantastic boost for rowing in Ireland, it’s a small sport no matter how you look at it but to have two boats in the finals and to get silver is absolutely brilliant.

“They’re only 22 and 23 and they’re only starting. The progress they’ve made even in the last 12 months is unreal. They work in a sensible and positive way so practice makes perfect, they aren’t afraid of hard work either.

Seán Drea, Munich 1972 (7th); Montreal 1976 (4th)

“We’ve all tried before and they are the ones that deliver in style. I’m delighted for them. It’s exactly what we’ve wanted since 1976 when I was going for gold; they do it 40 years later.

“They are extraordinary lads. They must have an excellent coach if they can maintain their personalities under the rigours of the sport, which is important. You have to be yourself, there’s no room for actors in rowing.

“Today, these guys have opened a new chapter for Irish rowing. I won the first international silver medal and these lads have brought it up a level by doing it in the Olympics.

“We have a natural environment for rowing with rivers and lakes and the lads have just done so much for the sport. It’s a tough sport but if your passionate as you are about other sports, then it could be an excellent sport for young people to choose.

“My rowing days were very amateur, so it’s great that rowing is supported by Sport Ireland.

“I don’t have words to describe the lads. They have the same spirit as the Kilkenny team, get stuck in and work, no nonsense. They can still have a laugh too and be serious about their rowing. I loved that saying ‘close your eyes and pull like a dog’.

“They’re the product of a good Irish coach so a lot of credit to Dominic. It’s been a long time coming and they could both do four more Olympics, which is marvellous.”

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