O'Donovan grace under pressure
Published 14/08/2016 | 02:30
In a funny way, one of the most impressive things about the O'Donovan brothers - and there are many things - is the fact that they did not, as they would say themselves, go on the beer last Friday night. You can be sure that plenty of people ended up on the beer to celebrate the victory of these two lads, who have, as the President said, caught the imagination of the public. But not the two medallists.
There is always an assumption that people must "celebrate" when there is a sporting achievement. These "celebrations", as they are euphemistically known, are often said "to go on until dawn". And what we all mean by it is that people who would never stir themselves to row a boat stay up all night drinking.
This is in no way to denigrate the people of Skibbereen, some of whom may have had a late night on Friday. This was Skibb's victory, and a victory for West Cork - for a magical, marginal community where outstanding people fostered a magical, marginal sport for years and years, passing it down through generations. Skibb had every right to "celebrate".
While there were plenty of others with no connection to the O'Donovans who "celebrated", Gary and Paul did not. They were "knackered" by the time they had won an Olympic medal, done their podium and media duties and got back to the village.
People will have been surprised they did not "celebrate". They had achieved a boyhood dream. They had lifted not just their own community, but the whole country - a country that badly needed a good-news story out of the Olympics. In the process, they had charmed everyone with their humour, modesty and Cork understatement. Their utterances had become catchphrases on T-shirts. They had united the country in a way that doesn't happen often. If anyone had a right to "celebrate", they did. Most of us would have been breaking out the Champagne, "letting off a bit of steam".
But Paul is off to compete in the World Rowing Championships in Rotterdam next week. And Gary will join him there. They'll be back to college before they know it, and, as Paul says, a good thing, too - because you could go mad otherwise. So, for now, the celebrations will wait. Maybe until they are among their own again in Skibb.
As Roy Keane fans know, it's a Cork trait to be deadly serious while also being a p**s-taker. It keeps people guessing. One of the things that endeared the O'Donovans to the nation was how easy they made it look - as if they were just there for the laugh and as if they weren't taking it all too seriously.
But they know that "celebrating" doesn't win you Olympic medals. They know it's focus, early mornings, hard work, in all weather, maybe even not having a girlfriend "for a shpell". But they didn't labour that point. They wore it lightly. We just saw them floating gracefully like swans - we didn't see the work that goes into making that happen. It was grace under pressure. And it was an example to us all.