Back in Skibbereen: Olympic rowing heroes return home

Golden boy Fintan McCarthy and bronze medallist Emily Hegarty took part in an impromptu drive through the town to celebrate their stunning victories
Back in Skibbereen: Olympic rowing heroes return home

Golden boy Fintan McCarthy and bronze medallist Emily Hegarty took part in an impromptu drive through the town to celebrate their stunning victories Picture: Anne Minihane / Twitter

Two of Cork's Olympic heroes have returned home to Skibbereen, with medals in tow.

Golden boy Fintan McCarthy and bronze medallist Emily Hegarty took part in an impromptu drive through the town to celebrate their stunning victories at this year's Olympic Games with locals. 

Ireland's six Olympic medallists arrived at Dublin Airport on Sunday afternoon posing for photos outside the airport. Five of them had their medals at hand - Paul O’Donovan conceded he had left his gold in his luggage.

Despite taking home the gold, O’Donovan was nothing but humble if a little self-deprecating following him and McCarthy's heroic, and historic, performance at the Tokyo Games.

Asked about the secret to his success, O’Donovan proclaimed “there's nothing special about us." 

"You have to have a strong belief that it is possible," he said.

"A lot of hard work can get you there."

"We saw that when the women’s four took a bronze medal and had their biggest team ever there. Absolutely everything is possible.” 

Team Ireland's Emily Hegarty, Fiona Murtagh, Paul O'Donovan, Fintan McCarthy, Aifric Keogh, and Eimear Lambe return home with their medals from the Tokyo Olympics. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Team Ireland's Emily Hegarty, Fiona Murtagh, Paul O'Donovan, Fintan McCarthy, Aifric Keogh, and Eimear Lambe return home with their medals from the Tokyo Olympics. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

It’s an attitude that permeates through all of Ireland’s rowing team as, according to O’Donovan, coach Dominic Casey implored them to “get the boat to rig as quickly as possible before you go anywhere else” straight after the race.

McCarthy saw first-hand what a rising tide can do when he welcomed O’Donovan home from the last Olympics and now, he’s beginning to come to terms with his achievements.

Gold medallists Paul O'Donovan, left, and Fintan McCarthy. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Gold medallists Paul O'Donovan, left, and Fintan McCarthy. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

“I’ve had a bit of time I guess over the past few days to do that. I’m just feeling pretty grateful that I was a part of it back then. The lads (Paul and Gary) were from our club so there was huge excitement around the place.

“It definitely helped me to get to where I am today because that I saw that it was possible. It gave me a lot of motivation just to keep going with it. We were doing similar enough training, we had the same coach, so it was pretty clear that it was a winning formula.

“We don’t get many opportunities to race, most of what we do is training so you really need to enjoy the training, enjoy the journey.” 

After a five-year Olympic cycle, O’Donovan is looking forward to a bit of normality and balance in his life when he returns to study medicine in UCC.

“I’d be looking forward to getting back to college life. A couple of months at this stage to catch up with all of the lads again. Too much of the rowing…I just get too consumed in it. It’s good for me to take a break.

“I think that it can give you a bit more longevity in the long run. It’s good that I can combine the two [studying and rowing].

Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty speaking to the media on Sunday afternoon. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty speaking to the media on Sunday afternoon. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

"If I’d just been rowing full-time for the past ten years, I’d be getting to my age now and I’d be thinking that I can’t stay going at this forever because when I do retire, I won’t have anything to do. 

"When you can combine the two as you’re going along it just means that you don’t have to worry about getting older. Both of them are quite fun too, so it’s a good job.”

All roads lead to Skibbereen for O’Donovan, McCarthy, and Hegarty but Eimear Lambe will bask in her success in Dublin, while Aifric Keogh and Fiona Murtagh, the first Galwegians to medal at the Olympics while representing Ireland, will head west to celebrate. 

Skibbereen post boxes go Gold to celebrate Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy's heroic success at this year's Olympic Games 
Skibbereen post boxes go Gold to celebrate Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy's heroic success at this year's Olympic Games 

Homecoming celebrations are expected to be low-key this year due to the pandemic, but Skibbereen is getting creative with celebrating its newest Olympic heroes.

A few hours after O’Donovan and McCarthy took the top spot in the Men's Lightweight Double Sculls on Thursday, a team went to work painting the post boxes outside Skibbereen's post office gold. 

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