'We are just not like fools in front of cameras. We are like this everyday' - Skibbereen homecoming for medal-winning O'Donovan brothers
Published 30/08/2016 | 02:30
Olympic medal-winning rowers Gary and Paul O'Donovan hailed their incredible welcome home to west Cork as simply 'oar-inspiring'.
The brothers were visibly moved as more than 10,000 people thronged the streets of Skibbereen to honour the historic silver medal won by the two students at the Rio Games.
The duo's route home to Skibbereen along the N71 was lined with bonfires, cheering crowds, poster tributes and Irish flags. Virtually every west Cork village and town had erected a roadside 'crossed oars' symbol to honour the brothers.
In Leap, Ger O'Sullivan and Nathan Solomon worked for almost four days to created a roadside sculpture of the two brothers rowing carved from a single giant tree trunk.
From 6pm last night, Skibbereen came to a standstill as the brothers were feted through the town centre on an open-top bus before they arrived at their homecoming ceremony at the Fair Field.
"It was overwhelming. When we were in Rio, people were sending us messages that we didn't know what we were in for back in Skibbereen - that there was going to be a huge crowd," Gary said. "Before we got on the plane from Rotterdam, we got a WhatsApp message from the lads in the club saying there were buses heading from Skibbereen to Cork Airport. We thought 'this is going to be insane'."
But the brothers challenged some depictions of them.
"Everything we have done, we are just trying to represent our club and country," Gary said.
"We are just not like fools in front of cameras. We are like this everyday. We come in to the club and try and have fun with the younger rowers."
They also dismissed suggestions the Olympic ticket controversy impacted on Irish athletes - stressing that their first reaction to the Rio arrest was: "Who is Pat Hickey?"
But Gary and Paul admitted they were a little overwhelmed by the intense media focus on them.
"All of this is a complete shock to us. We are here talking sh**e and just being ourselves," Paul said.
"It escalated really quickly at Rio but, what the hell? It is all good for the sport and especially the community down here."
Their Rio joke about wanting some "steak and spuds" inspired their presentation yesterday with a special 'Gary & Paul Pizza' from Jeff Heaton-Jones - with the only topping being steak and spuds.
The brothers also joked that it was Waterford 400m hurdler Thomas Barr rather than themselves who was now the 'pin-up' of Irish sport.
"Apparently, Tommy Barr is now the most wanted man amongst the women of Ireland. We will leave him with that title," Paul joked.