Tuesday 12 December 2017

'They have dared to dream and every single person is proud of them' - rowers hometown of Skibbereen comes to a standstill as O’Donovan brothers become Olympic heroes

Watching the O'Donovan brothers Olympic silver medal, uncle Peter O'Donovan aunt Sandra and cousin Roisin, centre in Skibereen Credit Union
Watching the O'Donovan brothers Olympic silver medal, uncle Peter O'Donovan aunt Sandra and cousin Roisin, centre in Skibereen Credit Union
Supporters of the O'Donovan crowd cheer on the brothers
Paul O'Donovan and Gary O'Donovan of Ireland celebrate
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

Skibbereen locals danced in the streets as the west Cork town celebrated two local rowing brothers becoming Olympic heroes.

Gary (23) and Paul (22) O’Donovan clinched a silver medal at the Rio Olympics in their third race at the Lagoa complex.

Their proud parents, Teddy and Trish O’Donovan, were in Rio to see west Cork and Irish sporting history being made.

The O'Donovan brothers also delivered Ireland's first medal of the Rio Games.

Seconds after the west Cork duo clinched silver, Skibbereen celebrated in a cacophony of cheers, honking car horns and the popping of champagne corks.

Skibbereen's Main Street was swamped by hundreds of pound locals celebrating two west Cork brothers who won Ireland's first ever Olympic rowing medals.

The brothers hail from Lisheen, a tightknit community on the outskirts of Skibbereen.

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, Catríona 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."

In Skibbereen, the bustling west Cork town ground to a standstill for the 2.40pm race at Lagoa.

Skibbereen Credit Union had erected a giant screen so the Rio rowing events could be watched by fans.

The O’Donovan relatives who couldn’t travel to Rio led the local celebrations instead.

The boys' gran, Mary Doab, at whose Ballincollig home the rowers stay when they are training in Cork city, watched the race with friends.

"The excitement was unreal. I'm still pinching myself that the two boys are out at the Olympics representing Ireland," she said.

"I'd feed them whenever they come by from training," she proudly explained.

Jackie and Dan Neville, the boys’ aunt and uncle, said not just west Cork but the entire country will be proud of their achievements in Brazil.

“They worked so hard for it. They trained in all kinds of weather. They deserve every bit of it,” Jackie said.

Another aunt, Regina Coombs, said the boys will stand as role models of just what can be achieved in Irish sport through dedication and hard-work.

“They’re amazing lads. They love rowing and are so modest about all their achievements,” she said.

Skibbereen Rowing Club coach, Dominic Casey, was one of the proudest Irishmen yesterday as his charges defied the pundits in Rio.

Skibbereen Credit Union manager, Donal O'Driscoll, organised the special Olympic viewing which included an area for children from Lisheen national school where Gary and Paul studied.

A samba band also led the cheering crowd outside the packed credit union premises.

Staff also boasted T-shirts which advised: "We're well used to a bit of wind."

"My son, Diarmuid, who is in Rio with Gary and Paul, was a part of the rowing four when the lads started back at eight years of age. They won everything before them" Donal said.

"This is a long time coming. They've been training hard for this moment since they were small boys."

Locals were particularly delighted for Dominic Casey and Skibbereen RC president, Nuala Lupton.

Hardly surprising but Nuala was the first Irish woman to compete at a rowing world championships back in 1975.

“They've been involved for donkey's years. They've helped make the club what it is today. Fair play to the lads but they've a great team behind them with their family and Skibbereen RC,” local man Pat Murphy said.

It was a triumph for Skibbereen RC which is enormously proud of its status as one of the most successful clubs in Europe.

The boys’ father, Teddy, competed alongside the club's previous Olympians from Skibbereen RC, Eugene Coakley (Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004), Richard Coakley (Beijing 2008) and Timmy Harnedy (Athens 2004).

“It's the most successful club in Ireland - don't forget that,” Mary

O'Sullivan pointed on on Skibbereen's High Street.

Renowned west Cork paper, 'The Southern Star', based on Ilen Street, almost within sight of Skibbereen RC, ran a special Olympic feature such was the huge interest in the O'Donovan brothers and their Rio fortunes.

They proudly pointed out that Skibbereen has accounted for 20pc of all Olympic rowers for Ireland since 2004.

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