Coxless four set to book places at Lucerne


IRELAND'S lightweight squad arrived home from the Duisberg international regatta last night with the coxless four having emerged as favourites to win Olympic qualification at Lucerne next month.

Saturday's final saw the four drawn against a number of national crews harbouring the same ambition but from the start the Irish combination of Neville Maxwell, Tony O'Connor, Sam Lynch and Derek Holland led the field only to be caught 50 metres short of the line by this year's unbeaten crew from Germany.

Half a second kept that run intact but Ireland's time of 5:57.52 was nevertheless a second faster than Austria and the expected French challenge never materialised - they finished in fifth. Afterwards, sweep coach John Holland avoided prejudging the final crew selection but conceded that the four had proved themselves a formidable combination.

It was a terrific performance. People are going to speculate on whether there's room for improvement but it's going to be very hard to shift these four. We nearly beat the Germans and we've now beaten all the nations who'll be at the qualifiers, so it augurs well for the future."

The four will seat-race with the rest of the sweep squad at Blessington next Friday and Saturday with the selected crew likely to face only the Dutch and the French in Lucerne.

In the doubles, Niall O'Toole made the finals on both days and finished fifth with yesterday's partner, Brendan Dolan, in a time that roughly translates as Olympic semi-final standard.

"It need's a bit of togetherness but at least it's proven that any two from Niall, Brendan and Gearoid [Towey] can row together. A decision won't, be taken on selection but all options are open and we're racing a single and a double at the Lucerne warm-up regatta," said Holland.

Whatever combination is finally chosen for Lucerne, it appears the four may be joined in their Olympic challenge by the Shannon heavyweight pair of Brian Collins and Fergal O'Callaghan. The unofficial venture has already seen the pair race at Cologne where an enforced boat change kept them eight seconds off the pace and out of the finals.

But the IARU have given Collins and O'Callaghan the go-ahead to enter for the Olympic qualifiers depending on their showing at the warm-up regatta in two weeks' time.

In the meantime the two managed to get in some useful race practice during Saturday's Cork Regatta at Farran Woods. After beating Tribesmen by five lengths in the pairs, they joined the St Michael's duo of Bowen and Long to beat them again by a canvas in the coxed fours before finally leading St Michael's to victory in the Leander eights challenge.

Guesting for internationals Sam Lynch and Donal Hanrahan the Shannon pair strode the pace out after the first 30 strokes of the race and 500 metres in, the St Michael's eight were half a length in front.

Behind them, the Defence Forces had recovered from a poor start to row through their recurrent adversary, the Garda eight, but another push from St Michael's/Shannon put the race beyond them in the last third and a final wind up on the finish failed to make any inroads into the length and a quarter lead.

Garda came in third and a bow-to-bow contest between Neptune's novice/intermediate eight and the Muckross/Fossa juniors ended in a dead heat for fourth place.

As a measure of how far they have come since their recent move into mainstream rowing, Muckross and Fossa will this week attempt to break from 200 years of inter-rivalry between the town's six clubs and form a single Killarney rowing centre. Representatives from Slesk Valley, St Brendan's, Commercial Killarey and Workmen's are to be canvassed later today on the move which is expected to stand alone from the six-seat rowing tradition which now appears divisive to national title hopes.

Muckross and the nine-strong Fossa club picked up a clutch of junior wins and second places over the weekend and Muckross captain Sean Coffey has lodged the IARU affiliation forms for Killarney Rowing Club with the intention of entering crews for the Junior Championships - where composites are not allowed - before next week's deadline.

Shandon's J18 women cleaned up in their sweep events with Jane O'Connell, partnered by Casey O'Gorman, winning the pairs easily and then doubling up to stroke the eight that beat Colaiste Iognaid by 1 1/4 lengths. The four completed the hat-trick to leave their coach and women's convenor, Michael O'Callaghan, in understated satisfaction.

"The pair did reasonably well since it was their first time together, they looked well balanced and they should give Neptune's seniors (Susan O'Brien and Anne Marie Muldoon) a run for their money. The rest did as I expected and apart from Methodist I can't see anyone beating us" he said afterwards.

O'Callaghan was also pleased with the performance of his internationals. Sheila Clavin was untroubled in either of her single scull races, Commercial's Helen Dixon finishing five lengths adrift in the Senior 1 event.

Clavin also partnered her younger sister Bride in virtually her first time in a boat to take third in the doubles behind Skibbereen and Fermoy.

But Debbie Stack and partner Vanessa Lawrenson, flush after another pairs win, will have to bite on their ambitions according to O'Callaghan: "We are aiming for the Nation's Cup and developing them with a view to building a squad around them next year. Stepping them up to the World Championships would be a step too far at the moment."