Here we go again. Think Tokyo and Varese and Plovdiv and Ottensheim and the other places they possibly can’t remember too because the feeling here in Munich is unless they row the wrong way Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy are primed to win another gold medal. These are golden days and blissful too.
Here’s the deal: after two long days of qualifying six of the eight Irish crews will be on the water again at the old 1972 Olympic regatta venue on Saturday and Sunday. Medals will be won by the Irish too, the only question is how many.
After another mostly productive morning on the water on Friday it finished with another three Irish crews securing their places in the final of these European Championships. Each one is in with a real shout and in Irish rowing now that is the way it is.
First to succeed here on Friday in the women’s pair were Emily Hegarty and Fiona Murtagh, winning their repechage by just over four seconds from the Greek crew. Then came Aoife Casey, also winning the women’s single sculls repechage by four seconds ahead of the Italian Stefania Buttignon.
It was a closer call for Lydia Heaphy and Margaret Cremen in their women’s lightweight double sculls repechage, finishing just 0.03 of a second ahead of the Swiss crew, still that puts them in the medal mix come Saturday morning.
Due to illness however Sanita Puspure and Zoe Hyde’s were forced to withdraw from the women’s double sculls semi-final, with that also ending hopes of the women’s eight given they were also part of that crew.
Two of the four women crews, the women’s pair and women’s four, will compete for podium places on Saturday, with McCarthy and O’Donovan out on Sunday looking to add another medal to their collection in the lightweight double sculls.
Now 28, O’Donovan with that can extend his status as one of the most decorated sportsman in Irish sporting history: Olympic gold and Olympic silver, four World Championship titles, two European Championship golds and two silver, and not forgetting the Henley regatta he won with McCarthy not long after Tokyo, a prize he jested was possibly the bigger deal anyway.
Since then O’Donovan has only been back on the water once, winning the lightweight single at the Lucerne World Cup III last month, his wild man hair now down hanging over this shoulders with thick beard even more unkept. He only rejoined the Irish squad after Lucerne, motivated as ever not by the winning of the medals but the best he can be — as in the best lightweight in the world.
“It’s always nice to win medals,” he said in Tokyo. “But I just think ... D’you know, I’m not rowing to get a big collection of medals. I’m just rowing because I enjoy it ...
“It’s like from my experience of winning World Championships and even the last Olympics silver medal, there’s almost a ceiling on how happy you can be for winning medals.”
Much of his time since Tokyo has been directed at his medical studies at Cork University Hospital. McCarthy also raced in the single sculls this season, while also picking up a medal at the World Rowing Cups, they are now unquestionable favourites to defend their European title won in Varese last year.
Who do they have to beat? Ukraine, Switzerland, Italy, the Czech Republic and Portugal. Unless they row the wrong way they will win.
For Tokyo bronze medallists Murtagh (NUIG BC) and Hegarty (UCC RC) there are real medal hopes in their final too, likewise for the women’s four. Casey is coming into form too, moving into second through the third quarter of her race and pushing ahead of Buttignon of Italy to take the win in the last 500m. There is a medal there for the taking.
Eimear Lambe, Tara Hanlon, Aifric Keogh and Natalie Long now make up the women’s four (W4-), with the Tokyo experience of Lambe and Keogh sure to tell, though Britain won gold at both World Cups they attended.
Elsewhere in Munich, in the BMX freestyle, former motocross rider Ryan Henderson from East Belfast goes in Saturday’s final too after producing 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.
At the Munich velodrome, Lara Gillespie, Alice Sharpe, Mia Griffin and Kelly Murphy finished sixth in their team pursuit.
The Irish quartet finished their second qualifying round ahead of Poland in a time of four minutes 25.53 seconds for the 4,000 metre distance — half a second faster than the four minutes 26.028 they recorded in the qualifying round on Thursday evening, although not enough to equal the bronze medal they took last year.
Irish crew final times (all times Irish)
10.44am: Women’s pair A final (Emily Hegarty and Fiona Murtagh)
11.16am Women’s 4 A final (Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh, Tara Hanlon and Natalie Long
10:36 Women’s single sculls A final (Aoife Casey)
10:52: PR2 Mixed double sculls final (Steven McGovern and Katie O’Brien)
11.26: Men’s lightweight double sculls A final (Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy)
11.43: Women’s lightweight double sculls A final (Lydia Heaphy and Margaret Cremen)