Sunday 11 December 2016

'You know, we had a cracker of a race there' - Irish rowing brothers arguably the best thing about our Olympics

Alan O'Keeffe, Ralph Riegel and Luke Byrne

Published 12/08/2016 | 02:30

Rowers Paul O'Donovan, left, and his brother Gary. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Rowers Paul O'Donovan, left, and his brother Gary. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Two Cork bothers, rowing up a storm at the Rio Olympics, could be Ireland's surprise gold medal hope - but that's not the only reason they've got the nation talking.

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Speaking after they secured a place in the finals of the lightweight double sculls event, it became clear Gary and Paul O'Donovan may have a career in comedy, if the rowing doesn't work out.

The Skibbereen brothers are fast becoming online heroes and national treasures.

"Ah, so far so good, you know we had a cracker of a race there you know, I think that race had nearly everything you could want for any race," Gary told RTÉ after the race.

"And I suppose, with the year that's in it, 'tis great to beat the Brits as well," he added with a smile.

The conversation turned to strategy. "Nothing too complex really - A to B as fast as you can go and hope for the best," Paul said. "Close the eyes and pull like a dog," he added.

Read more: Double joy for Ireland as male and female rowing teams qualify for Olympic finals

Paul said they were a little disappointed they couldn't race on Wednesday, owing to the weather.

Jackie Neville, aunt of Gary and Paul O’Donovan, watches the live broadcast in Skibbereen, west Cork, as they qualify for the final in Rio. Photo: Darragh McSweeney
Jackie Neville, aunt of Gary and Paul O’Donovan, watches the live broadcast in Skibbereen, west Cork, as they qualify for the final in Rio. Photo: Darragh McSweeney
Eimear and Aideen Lambe, sisters of Olympic rower Claire Lambe, at the family home in Cabra, Dublin. Photo: Doug O’Connor

"We were almost disappointed we couldn't race yesterday, we were looking forward to that, would have been a bit of craic, but we had to settle with this, but we handled it very well," he said.

"We're well used to a bit of wind, that kind of thing wouldn't faze us at all," Gary said.

Irish fans cheering during the women’s double sculls semi-final at the Lagoa stadium in Rio. Getty Images
Irish fans cheering during the women’s double sculls semi-final at the Lagoa stadium in Rio. Getty Images

The brothers spoke warmly about the atmosphere in the Irish camp at Rio - including hanging out and sharing weighing scales with the boxers.

"Like, we're sharing weighing scales, because we have to weigh in as well before our race, so they're always […] cheering us on there before the races and that," Paul said.

Colourful

The brothers' account of their time in Rio was made all the more colourful, thanks to the west Cork accent.

"Get a bit of steak," Paul said about his plans for the evening. "The food is fantastic there like, you could have steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with spuds if you like," his brother added.

The siblings, who won their heat on Monday, came third in the semi final yesterday, behind the French and the United States, both favoured teams, in a time of 6:35.70.

They weren't the only Irish crew to qualify for the finals.

Sinead Jennings and Claire Lambe became the first female crew to reach an Olympic final and will contest today's lightweight double sculls decider.

There was delight for Aideen and Eimear Lambe as they toasted their big sister Claire making history at the Olympics.

"We were screaming at the television and crying with joy. Claire might have heard us in Rio," said Aideen (22) at the family home in Cabra in Dublin yesterday.

"It's my birthday today and Claire getting into the Olympics final is the best birthday present ever," said Eimear (19).

"Claire and Sinead had the third fastest time of the six teams in the final so it would be brilliant if they win a medal. We're ecstatic they've done so well," said Aideen, a secondary school teacher.

"There's a great feeling all around here, with the neighbours putting out flags," she said.

Eimear, a business student at University College Dublin, has represented Ireland in rowing at junior level and will be competing in the World University Rowing Championships in Poland shortly.

Read more: 'It was great to beat the Brits as well': The O'Donovan brothers continue to be the best thing about the Olympics

Their parents Sheila and Noel are in Rio with friends to cheer on Claire and Sinead.

Meanwhile, there was a Brazilian feel in west Cork as samba music pulsed through the streets of Skibbereen to cheer on local heroes Gary (22) and Paul (21).

Their mother, Trish O'Donovan, who is in Rio, said it has been a "surreal experience".

"Without a shadow of a doubt I'm proud to have two children competing. To have one would be surreal but to have two here and both of them competing in the same boat? It is absolutely unbelievable," she said.

The boys' father, Teddy, took to social media to underline his delight at their achievement in reaching an Olympic final. Fittingly, it was Teddy who introduced the boys to the sport via Skibbereen Rowing Club.

Irish Independent

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