‘My heart hasn’t restarted yet’: Cork town celebrates rowers’ Olympic gold

·3-min read

Few members of Skibbereen Rowing Club in Cork have managed to get much sleep in the last 12 hours.

In a small polytunnel usually reserved for winter training, a small crowd of around 20 people gathered to watch local rowers Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy in the lightweight double sculls in Tokyo.

The pair delivered Ireland’s first ever Olympics gold in rowing – and rowing club members have been fielding calls and congratulations from the moment the two men crossed the finish line.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Day Six
Locals gathered in Skibbereen to watch Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan win the lightweight double sculls (Danny Lawson/PA)

“The buzz around Skibbereen is amazing,” said Skibbereen Rowing Club secretary TJ Ryan. “The town is alive.”

The impending race had been the talk of the town over the last 24 hours and the club had set up a small pop-up shop selling club and Olympics merchandise.

It had ran out of stock twice by the time O’Donovan and McCarthy took to the water.

Mr Ryan said the race itself was “amazing” – even if the German pair came close to causing an upset.

“They probably ran the race of their lives,” he said of the German team. “They came back at us.”

The club is becoming familiar with Olympics success.

In 2016, O’Donovan and his brother Gary won silver at the Rio Games – a victory that prompted huge celebrations in Skibbereen.

“Everybody is right behind it,” Mr Ryan said. “For a small club, we have a gold, silver and a bronze.”

Attention is now turning to how locals can safely celebrate when the pair return from Japan.

“Restrictions are going to cause an awful lot of problems with what we can do, so it’ll be play it by ear,” Mr Ryan said.

The club does not intend to become complacent about future Olympic success.

Mr Ryan said: “We’re already in plans for future expansions to keep the show on the road”.

He added that he thinks the current crop of rowers coming through the club’s ranks mean there can be more success in the years ahead.

As for the chances of the latest medal haul attracting new members, Mr Ryan is optimistic: “Hopefully it will bring a few more in.”

Skibbereen Rowing Club president Nuala Lupton was on her way to the manage the town’s merchandise stall on Thursday morning and was expecting a busy few hours.

Gary and Paul O’Donovan Homecoming – Skibbereen
Fans line the streets during a homecoming parade in Skibbereen, Co Cork, in 2016 (Brian Lawless/PA)

“It was difficult to wake up after a few hours’ sleep,” she said. “I don’t think my heart has restarted yet. I think it stopped last night.”

Ms Lupton has been involved with the club for the last 50 years and has seen scores of young rowers come through and achieve success.

She is confident the club can reach even greater heights in the decades to come.

“I think because we’re all very down to earth. We work very hard,” she said. “We have always had a great work ethic in Skib and, of course, we also have (coach) Dominic Casey.

“I think rowing builds a certain type of character. You have to be a certain type of character to stick to the routine.”

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O’Donovan and McCarthy’s success has also been celebrated nationally.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin, who is from Cork, offered his congratulations to the pair on Thursday morning.

“An outstanding gold medal for Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy,” he tweeted. “Breathtaking victory in the lightweight double sculls – a race that will live long in history.”

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