O'Donovan brothers cap glorious year with top award
They already captured Olympic silver medals, as well as the hearts of the Irish public, so it was fitting that Cork brothers Gary and Paul O'Donovan crowned an extraordinary year with the 2016 Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year award last night.
Relative unknowns before the Games began, the Skibbereen pair were the story of the summer as they rowed their way to Olympic immortality on that famous August afternoon along Rio's Stade de Lagoa.
Gary (23) and Paul (22) were instant fan favourites once they hit our television screens and while they closed their eyes and "pulled like a dog" the whole country pulled with them as a remarkable journey unfolded.
"You've just been asking us questions and we've been answering them," Gary remarked in one of many memorable post-race interviews. But as tough questions were being asked on the water, they kept coming up with all the right answers.
Their performance in the lightweight men's double sculls final was sheer class with the brothers upping the ante at the half-way stage as their dreams, and those of their new-found fans, became reality.
Delivering Irish rowing's first Olympic medal courtesy of a heart-stopping second-place finish with a gutsy performance, they defied their jovial, happy-go-lucky exteriors to etch their place in Irish sporting history forever.
Perhaps the greatest gift the O'Donovans gave us is that they make it look like fun. Amidst all the sporting clichés the sheer enjoyment of a pursuit can often be forgotten but they reminded every sports fan about why they were interested in the first place.
Don't let appearances fool you either, however. The O'Donovans are a rare breed in more ways than one and their competitive intensity is clear for all to see. Beneath the laughter is a drive to be the best and reach their limitless potential.
And while silver is a remarkable achievement, Paul (a third year physiotherapy student in UCD) and Gary (a final year marketing student in CIT) are determined to make this a launch-pad for even greater things in the years to come.
Their lifelong coach Dominic Casey deserves huge credit for overseeing their rise through the ranks, while Paul's astonishing display at the World Rowing Championships in Rotterdam later that month confirmed sporting greatness as he scorched to a stunning single sculls gold.
Tokyo 2020 can't come quick enough for the charismatic O'Donovan brothers, or their colossal fanbase, and the Lisheen natives will no doubt be hoping to go one better with the help of more "shteak and spuds".