D-day on the water. The afternoon a nation turned on, tuned in and became instant rowing experts.
Claire Lambe and Sinead Jennings are first up. On the formbook they shouldn’t be there. The formbook is proved correct. Still, the duo have punched above their weight in reaching the final. It’s an achievement not to be overlooked.
On to the men’s final — or, as we trust it will turn out to be, the Gary and Paul Show after the garrulous West Cork siblings who captured the hearts of the nation literally overnight. They don’t have to tell us their gameplan. We already know it.
They’re going to Pull Like Dogs.
What a gloriously unpretentious deconstruction of their strategy. No speaking in tongues or highfalutin’ tactical nonsense. But that’s the O’Donovan brothers for you. Part philosopher kings, part Cha and Miah in a boat and wholly, compulsively magnetic.
The pair were third in their heat. Doesn’t sound much but it was the faster semi-final, meaning they had the third best time. As such they’re potential medallists. Myles Dungan in Rio helps out the non-experts at home — ie everyone bar Neville Maxwell in the RTÉ studio — by telling us that France “are the ones to beat, the clear favourites”.
Our boys are in Trap One, the dog — as it were — in the green jacket at the top of the picture. Away they go, not too quickly. They reach the 500m mark in fifth place, albeit not far off second place. This is okay, it seems.
Myles: “They’re not great starters. They are to race starts what Liam Brady was to the right foot.”
Quite possibly nobody over the age of 25 will have an earthly what he means, but full marks to Myles for taking care to craft an interesting simile (or is it metaphor?) nevertheless. They also, he says, have “a very good sprint finish”. Everyone over the age of 25, and under it too, will get what he means there.
To the 1,000m mark and still fifth. Barely a few seconds after it the TV picture shows something odd. It may be a trick of the light or a quirk of the camera angle but — the O’Donovans appear to be leading.
Honestly. They look to be a quarter of a canvas ahead. Or a quarter of a gunwale or a quarter of a scupper or a quarter of a marlinspike. Whichever.
To 1,500 metres and they are definitely in second place. They’re pulling like Mick the Miller. They’re sucking diesel. There is smoke on the water, a fire in the sky and gold in the air. Time for that sprint finish Myles promised.
“Ireland are looking very very good, very very composed. Gary takes a look over his left shoulder.”
What’s he keeping an eye on, this Skibbereen Eagle? The Tsar of Russia? Actually, it’s France, who are only just ahead, and Norway, who are only just behind. Come on, lads, keep her lit. “They’re going to cause a real threat for France! Ireland in the silver, challenging for gold! They’re in front!”
They come to the line. Dammit, it was the bloody camera angle. They’re not in front. It’s a photo finish and they get short-headed. Dammit. Still, a silver medal. How bad.
It is a great day for the unassuming, unobtrusive species that is the Cork race. They’re not very good at the oul’ hurling any more. They’re not very good at Gaelic football. But they’re not bate yet.
The preliminaries done and dusted, it’s time for the real action: The O’Donovan Brothers cabaret routine.
With their wonderful natural, unstudied insouciance they’re made for it. Land them on the moon tomorrow, or in Dublin, and they wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
With RTÉ on an ad break, John Inverdale and Steve Redgrave grab them for the BBC. Of course the boys Cork it up for all it’s worth. “We’ll have to be careful what we say in front of these lads,” Gary announces in a stage whisper.
Back on RTÉ Joe Stack pounces. His interview contains two moments that will endure. One is the sight of Gary barfing up in the background, the other a big reveal from Paul. “We’re dreading going home now because Michael Conlan said he’d box the head off us if we didn’t get the gold.”
With their silver-tongued charm they’ll surely be able to talk Conlan out of it and find another target for him. Michael O’Reilly, for instance.
What now? Clearly the sky is the limit for our heroes. The “Pull Like Dogs” t-shirts are probably already being punted on a street corner near you. Their own chatshow is an inevitability. Come to think of it, instead of subjecting them to a token Late Late Show appearance, why not cut out the middle Tubridy and appoint them as joint hosts altogether? Barring that, I hear the chair of philosophy at Harvard is free.
Whatever comes next they’ll approach it with canine enthusiasm. Dowtcha boys.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved