Irish crews let their rowing do all the talking on opening day of European Championships

Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy win their lightweight doubles heat to advance straight to Sunday’s final

To get to the Olympic Regattaparksee from Rosenheimer Platz in east Munich there is a choice of station stairways down to the S-Bahn, the city underground which opened in early 1972 to improve the transport system during the Summer Olympics which were held that year.

From there it is easy and straight to get to Central Station, Hauptbahnhof, four stops down the line, and after exiting left of the train the instructions were to follow the signs a long way around for the U2 and not the U3, which turns out are surprisingly easily confused.

On the right tracks again it is 12 stops to the end of the line at Feldmoching, a quiet suburb of mostly wooden chalets and a strange number of apotheke, looking out for the blue shuttle bus which when it eventually comes takes you through large fields of corn and sunflowers to where the rowing events happened during those same 1972 Olympics.

It is out in the proverbial middle of nowhere and a proper relic of place, mostly dusty now and in parts overgrown with weeds and untouched it seems in the last 50 years, except for the part which has been converted into the Munich Beach Resort, where they come at weekends to rollerblade beside the man-made waterway and maybe swim in it afterwards.


It is here the real Irish interest began on day one of the multi-sport European Championships, nine Olympic sports in all, and all eight Irish crews in action in Thursday’s opening qualifying session will get to row another day.

Chief among them was Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy, the reigning Olympic, World and European champions in the lightweight double sculls, who true to form and habit perhaps only got going in the second half of the race, trailing the Swiss crew at halfway before slowly and suddenly pulling several boat lengths clear, winning by six seconds.

How exactly it all felt for the Olympic champions only they know, because under instructions which we were told came from the high-performance management and coaches of Rowing Ireland, none of the rowers would be available for interview to any of us here, not even in the mixed zone directly below us where they exited their boats in the midday sunshine.

They had finals to row and there was nothing to say at this stage, was there? O’Donovan and McCarthy will row again in Sunday’s final.

It was their first time back rowing together this year, only their second time too after their Tokyo Olympic heroics, the last being the winning Henley Royal Regatta last summer, which O’Donovan jested was the bigger deal anyway, which to him it might well be.

So here is what we know did happen: there was a similarly convincing win in the heats of the women’s four for the crew of Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh, Natalie Long and Tara Hanlon, who won by seven seconds ahead of Denmark, and are also straight into their final set for Saturday. Lambe and Keogh were also part of the Tokyo bronze-medal winning team, still not in a position to comment on their efforts here.

The women’s pair of Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty missed out on their straight passage to the final, finishing in third place just .48 of a second behind the Croatian crew. Zoe Hyde and Sanita Puspure did qualify directly into the A/B semi on Friday morning, with a second-place finish in their women’s double heat.

The lightweight women’s double sculls team of Lydia Heaphy and Margaret Cremen finished second behind Britain, only the winners going straight into that final; also repechage-bound is Aoife Casey, fourth in her women’s single sculls heat.

Making an international debut for Irish rowing, the women’s eight later took to the water, Leah O’Regan (cox), Lambe, Hegarty. Murtagh, Keogh, Puspure, Hanlon, Long and Hyde finishing second to the Dutch crew by two seconds. With only one crew through to the A Final, they will next race the repechage on Friday.

In the Para Mix2x, Katie O’Brien and Steven McGowan, both Galway RC rowers, placed fourth in their race, still enough to go straight into Sunday’s final.

Back at the Munich Olympiahalle, another relic from the 1972 Olympics, the Irish women’s gymnastics team of Emma Slevin, Emily Moorhead, Bláthnaid Higgins, Halle Hilton and Kate Molloy finished eight of 13 in their subdivision qualifying group, not enough to advance to the eight-team final. Slevin and Hilton also competed in the all-around competition where they are placed 23rd and 20th respectively.

Making a first Irish international appearance in BMX freestyle, former motocross rider Ryan Henderson from east Belfast produced two excellent runs to qualify for the 12-rider final, his average score of 66.02 getting him through as 11th best of the 12 qualified riders across five heats.

On the track, the Irish women’s team pursuit of Lara Gillespie, Mia Griffin, Emily Kay, Kelly Murphy and Alice Sharpe also qualified as sixth fastest overall and with that go through to Friday’s semi-final round.

Friday Rowing Race Schedule (all times Irish)

8:06am: W2x A/B Semi

8:12am: W2 Repechage

8:42am: LW1x Repechage

9:06am: LW2x Repechage

10:08am: W8+ Repechage

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics