Unsung Heavyweights get the first punch in

THIS wasn’t in the script. Ireland’s lightweight rowers were supposed to sail through to the Olympic semi-finals on Thursday with their heavier brethren set for the roundabout repechage route.

Instead Cormac Folan, Sean O’Neill, Sean Casey and Jonno Devlin, competing together for the first time on Saturday, can put up the feet for a few days while such seasoned campaigners as Gearoid Towey, Richard Archibald, Cathal Moynihan and Paul Griffin are out again tomorrow. Despite their fourth place finish behind Germany, France and Poland, Towey was in upbeat mood.

“It wasn’t that bad,” he insisted. “We had a good row, I thought, so we just have to keep going with that. That race was over so fast it was just like push after push.”

There was no let up in the intensity with the Germans and the French setting a punishing pace from the outset. Poland, considered the weakest link of the quartet, rowed solidly and were unlucky not to take second as the French tired over the final 500m.

The winners came home in 5.50.16, with Ireland 2.35 adrift — 14 seconds quicker than when they secured qualification in Poznan two months ago.

Towey, who returned to the squad earlier this year, has no concerns about the route the quartet must face. They meet USA, Holland and Egypt tomorrow and are odds-on to advance to Thursday’s semis.

“We have to do a rep Tuesday, and if we do a good race in that we then get out for a semi-final on Thursday. It is possible to do that,” said the 31-year-old.

“At World Cup competitions we would have one or possibly two races on a Friday, a semi on a Saturday and a final on a Sunday, so that is three or four races in three days. The Olympics are different as everything is so spread out, so it is a sort of a luxury having days off in between races. We would be well able for it.”

The fours had a troubled passage to these Olympics, and without being prompted, the double world champion told reporters that all is well within the Irish camp. “There was not a bother with us. We are still flying, we just got beaten today. We can make a little bit of an improvement to our start, and other than that we were strong the whole way. It wasn’t a case that nobody was up for it; it was commitment all the way.”

But the surprise package of the weekend were the heavyweights who came through something of a heat of death which included Germany, France and Australia.

Ireland’s Chef de Mission Dermot Henihan was an interested spectator at the Shunyi Park for that tussle. He was manager of 11 world championship teams and had inputs into the Atlanta and Sydney campaigns.

“That was a very tough heat. I followed the race from beginning to end, and to drop the French with medallists in their boat, and the Germans just pipping us on the line for second place, shows it was an excellent race. They didn’t get out of the blocks well, they didn’t have a great first 500, but they rowed a great last 1500.

“In the last 500 the Germans came up, as did the French, but it was well done to Ireland. If I was a betting man I wouldn’t have been putting an awful lot of money on Saturday when you knew who was in it. But they got through and it was wonderful.”

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