'Huge commitment' and a great team behind them key to brothers' medal joy
Thirty years ago, it was almost sacrilegious in west Cork to opt for rowing over GAA. With proud clubs including O'Donovan Rossa, Carbery and others, the GAA ruled the roost of local sporting allegiance.
But the history-making efforts of Lisheen brothers Gary (23) and Paul (22) O'Donovan at the Rio Olympics was hailed as a long-overdue recognition of the incredible work within Skibbereen Rowing Club by a handful of volunteers.
Skibbereen ranks as Ireland's most successful rowing club over the past three decades, despite taking on bigger clubs from Dublin and Cork. The club has managed to supply 20pc of all Irish Olympic rowers over the past five Olympiads.
"Gary and Paul put Irish rowing on the map today, that is for sure," their uncle Peter said proudly.
It was perhaps inevitable that Gary and Paul would opt for rowing as their favourite sport, given that their father, Teddy, was an accomplished rower with Skibbereen and coached the boys until they were 18.
Then, Skibbereen RC coach Dominic Casey took over their instruction and, under his expert guidance, they have taken first European Championship and now Olympic glory.
"Everyone in the town is delighted for Gary and Paul as well as (parents) Teddy and Trish," said Skibbereen Credit Union manager Donal O'Driscoll. "But I think everyone is equally as thrilled for Dominic and for Skibbereen RC president Nuala Lupton, who have done so much for the club."
Nuala was the first Irish woman to compete at a rowing world championships in 1975.
"They've been involved for years," local man Pat Murphy said. "They've helped make the club what it is today. The lads have a great team behind them with their family and club."
Teddy competed alongside previous Olympians from Skibbereen RC including Eugene Coakley (Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004),
Richard Coakley (Beijing 2008) and Timmy Harnedy (Athens 2004).
"They'd often have to travel to Cork for training. They'd stay at their gran's house in Ballincollig. That's a huge commitment, particularly on dark evenings when it isn't an easy drive," Pat added.