Grit, determination, and the right programme behind Irish rowing's 'big strong gorls'

First and foremost, they are more than a four, they are a squad
Grit, determination, and the right programme behind Irish rowing's 'big strong gorls'

Ireland Women's Four, from left, Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty with Rowing Ireland high performance director Antonio Maurogiovanni, centre, and coach Giuseppe De Vita after finishing 3rd in the Women's Four final at the Sea Forest Waterway during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

I first met Eimear Lambe and Emily Hegarty at the Coupe de la Jeunesse in the beautiful city of Libourne in the Bordeaux region of France in 2014. Both were competing. Eimear, having just rowed at the Youth Olympics in China, was following in her sisters Claire and Sinead’s footsteps and Emily was a young 15 year old from Skibbereen.

The following year, Emily returned to the Coupe de La Jeunesse in Szeged, Hungry in a double with Aoife Casey and medalled both days with gold.

At this stage, Aifric was on the scene training away. Her cousin, a friend of mine, was filling me in on her aspirations. The following year at the World Championships in Aiguebelette, I got to know her as she was in the Women’s 4.

The Rio Olympics happened and the O’Donovan Brothers were an overnight success winning a silver medal. The achievements of Sanita in the single, and Claire and Sinead coming sixth in their final, were somewhat overlooked, with heightened talk about “pull like a dog” and “A to B as fast as you can”.

During that Olympics, Eimear watched with her sisters and grandparents in Islandbridge, next door to where the Lambe family gathered last night. Emily watched from a crowded Skibbereen and the seed was planted with all of them what can be achieved with a combination of grit, determination and the right programme.

The right training programme came in the form of a new High Performance Director Antonio Mauro Giovanni, an Italian with a wealth of experience in Italy and Australia. Some thought the programme was too tough but those who stuck it out reaped the benefits.

The forming of the High Performance committee was integral in supporting the Director and myself as CEO. We have all worked tirelessly together just like a crew would over the last three/four years. Together with coach Giuseppe de Vita, an Italian living in Dublin, and Cork-native Fran Keane with the pair and Sanita, the Women’s 4 — the 'Big strong gorls' — got faster and faster.

They narrowly missed out on qualification at the World Rowing Championships in Linz Austria and were devastated. I remember that day well and saying they would come back fighting and that I had the ultimate faith in them. Today they proved that.

So what about the four?

First and foremost, they are more than a four. They are a squad, a squad of the most motivated, dedicated, resilient strong girls.

Aifric, the rock of sense from Galway, an Irish speaker when pushed, the sensible one with a strong family unit backing her in parents Sue and Jim from Limerick, living in Galway.

Eimear, the youngster from the talented Lambe family, with a degree in Commerce and German who took time out only two years ago for her Erasmus year in Germany.

Fiona, from the other side of Galway, Moycullen, came to the National Rowing Centre two years ago after returning from America to ‘test the waters’. Her coach describes her as full of fun, but once she gets into the boat the focus is there.

And Emily, the baby of the group, but can she drive up the stroke rate and get that train moving as she did last night.

Together with Monika from Killorglin via Poznan, and Aileen also from Killorglin via UCD and Australia, who rowed the pair so well, and last but certainly not least Tara the reserve, the social media queen, backing them up and being there with them racing in her reserve race.

With Sanita, that's eight strong women, with more to come and Irish Rowing has a good pathway in place for Paris which is only three years away.

Michelle Carpenter is CEO of Rowing Ireland

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