Weekend forecast looks bright for Irish rowers in Munich

Hopes are high ahead of a busy few days in the water at the European Championships. 
Weekend forecast looks bright for Irish rowers in Munich

FOCUS: Cox, Leah O'Regan with Ireland's Women's Eight team, Fiona Murtagh, Emily Heagarty, Tara Hanlon, Aifric Keogh, Natalie Long, Sanita Puspure, Zoe Hyde yesterday.

When you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

Elite rowing is a punishing combination of mind and matter. Put more than one body into a boat and you can multiply the difficulties of synchronisation on waters that, as with yesterday’s strong winds, can be choppy.

You shouldn’t be able to just turn that sort of stuff on and off.

When Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy climbed into their boat just after noon yesterday it was the first time they had shared the space in a competitive environment since they followed their gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year with a win in the Henley Regatta.

That made not a jot of a difference.

It took them just over seven minutes to breach the finishing line in the first heat of the men’s lightweight double sculls at these European Championships. A Swiss crew that led them through the first 1,200m followed them home almost six seconds later.

The net result of all this is a place in Sunday’s final when the pair will look to buttress an already formidable reputation, and one that has spilled far beyond the confines of their own minority sport when it comes to the national and world stages.

O’Donovan leaned more towards his medical studies this last year, stopping off in Lucerne on the way home from Australia at one stage to win gold in a record-breaking time in the lightweight single sculls at World Cup III. 

The last time the pair were spotted in anything like this sort of proximity was at the Irish nationals earlier this summer when McCarthy bettered his teammate in the final of the single sculls at the Irish nationals.

A collector’s item that, if ever there was one.

They were joined on the water at Munich’s ‘Regattaweg’, a now ramshackle venue that played host to the sport at the Olympic Games 50 years ago, by every other member of a strong Irish squad assembled here this week.

Equally impressive on the first morning was the women’s four of Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh, Natalie Long and Tara Hanlon. They had seven seconds to spare on Denmark in their heat and they too now look ahead to a final.

Not the worst 25th birthday present for Lambe who, along with Keogh, won a bronze medal in this event at the Olympics in 2021. Their other two partners then, Emily Hegarty and Fiona Murtagh, face a repechage after finishing third in the women’s pairs.

That’s not ideal obviously but it isn’t fatal to their hopes of a podium either. Hegarty and Murtagh had to go the long way around at World Cup II in Poznan earlier this year as well and eventually turned for home with a bronze.

Sanita Puspure and Zoe Hyde claimed a comfortable second in the women’s double sculls behind the Netherlands. They progress to the semi-final while it’s a repechage for the lightweight women’s double sculls team of Lydia Heaphy and Margaret Cremen.

They finished second of six behind Great Britain but only the winners booked a ticket to the final and the British pair had a mammoth eight-plus seconds to spare on a course that presented a serious headwind throughout the morning.

Also facing the repechage route is Aoife Casey who came fourth in her women’s single sculls heat but if there was anything that spoke for the strength of Irish rowing these days it was the sight of a women’s eight coming in second in their heat behind the Netherlands.

“It’s just amazing being part of something that is so much bigger than each of us as individuals in the boat,” said Lambe. “That’s the first Irish senior women’s eight to race at a European Championships. To be able to field a boat that size of that standard, and to race against some of the bigger nations at an event like this, is unbelievable for Ireland and for women in sport in general, coming from such a small population.” 

The eight will be one of four Irish crews looking to progress through the back door route today. The main bulk of the business will come tomorrow and on Sunday when the Irish will be looking to storm a podium or two.

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