Brothers delay homecoming - so they can bag another win
Homecoming celebrations on hold in West Cork as the brothers O'Donovan bid for more glory at Rotterdam World Championships, writes Ralph Riegel
Ireland's Olympic history-makers are set to postpone their official homecoming from Rio until after the World Rowing Championships.
Gary (23) and Paul (22) O'Donovan are now scheduled to compete in the World Rowing Championships, which take place in Rotterdam from August 21.
Their homecoming is expected to be staged the week after the Rotterdam championships conclude.
Only the Olympic Games ranks higher on the international rowing calendar than the World Championships and it is understood the west Cork brothers are keen to renew their rivalry with the French lightweight double sculls crew that just pipped them for the gold in Rio on Friday.
The Skibbereen brothers are European champions but their stunning performance at the Lagoa rowing complex outside Rio has now seen them ranked as one of the most exciting young crews in their sport.
Skibbereen Rowing Club officials hailed the achievement of the two young men - and pointed out that they should be competing in the next two Olympic Games.
Rowing officials and volunteers flocked to the Skibbereen clubhouse yesterday morning to begin preparations for the homecoming, including repainting and redecorating the entire clubhouse.
Gary and Paul have been flooded by invitations to attend functions across Ireland and to appear on dozens of TV and radio stations.
Their quirky TV interviews, modesty and sense of humour has also seen them receive TV invitations from across the UK and Europe.
Both even made French TV headlines thanks to their magnanimous gesture of interrupting a TV interview so they could embrace and congratulate the French crew who had just pipped them for first place.
However, it is now expected that Gary and Paul will only celebrate their 'official' homecoming once the Rotterdam championships conclude.
By tradition, Irish Olympians return home as part of the overall national squad unless other competitions interfere.
Skibbereen has promised a homecoming of historic proportions for the two brothers from Lisheen who have won Ireland's first-ever Olympic rowing medals.
President Michael D Higgins paid his personal tribute to Ireland's first medallists of the 2016 Games: "On behalf of the people of Ireland I want to congratulate Paul and Gary O'Donovan on their silver medal today, Ireland's first ever Olympic rowing medal," he said.
"They have captured the nation's imagination and their skill, determination and positive outlook make them outstanding ambassadors for their sport."
Cork County Council, Cork City Council and various Skibbereen authorities have planned special celebrations for the brothers.
They will also be accorded a special reception at Aras an Uachtarain.
The extended O'Donovan family admitted they are still struggling to come to terms with the scale of the lads' achievement.
Their parents, Trish and Teddy O'Donovan, were in Rio to watch their sons win silver for Ireland at Lagoa.
Trish fought back tears as she said it was "an unbelievable moment - I'm so very proud of them both".
Teddy, who is a former rower and who introduced the boys to the sport at Skibbereen RC, said he had anticipated a medal for his sons after their strong performances in the heat and semi-final.
"I felt they had a lot left in the tank after that semi-final," he said.
"It was hard enough before to get my head around the fact all my children are Olympians.
"Now, they are both Olympic medallists. It is a dream come true for us all," he said.
Their uncle Peter O'Donovan said the two young men had delivered a huge morale boost for rural Ireland.
"They've won those medals for Lisheen, for Skibbereen, for west Cork and for Ireland," he said.
"Those two lads have worked so hard to prepare for Rio. It is incredible that a small, proud place like Lisheen has produced not one but two Olympic medal winners," he said.
Lisheen National School, which the brothers attended, will now stage a special Olympic ceremony to mark the opening of the school year in just over two weeks' time.
Lisheen principal, Catriona O'Driscoll, said Gary and Paul would have been welcomed home as heroes irrespective of their performance in the final.
"We were always going to be dancing at the crossroads at Lisheen for them," she said.
"They have always embodied the ethos of our school, their sport and the whole Olympic movement -which is to be the very best that you can be.
"They have dared to dream and every single person in this community is proud of them."
The boys' grandmother, Mary Doab, who feeds them at her Ballincollig home when they are undertaking rowing training in Cork city, said she still cannot believe what happened in Rio.
"The excitement was unreal. I'm still pinching myself that the two boys are out at the Olympics representing Ireland," she said.
"It's unbelievable that they are coming home with medals."