All in a row: home crowd cheers Skibb brothers home
Screams fill credit union as family and friends watch O’Donovans win Olympic silver
You had to wonder what the Skibbereen Eagle would have made of it all. More than 100 years after the local newspaper warned the czar that it had its eye on Russia, the eyes of the world were on the west Cork town and its local heroes, Paul and Gary O’Donovan, who come from Lisheen, just outside Skibbereen.
Expectations were high after the brothers took second place in their semi-final to qualify for the Olympic lightweight double sculls final and it was evident everywhere in Skibbereen, with the town bedecked in Tricolours.
Annie May’s restaurant was inviting customers in for “steak and spuds” after the O’Donovans did more for Irish farm produce in one interview than many an advertising campaign.
Skibbereen’s credit union was festooned with balloons and bunting. It is a sponsor of the Skibbereen Rowing Club and hundreds of supporters packed into the banking hall and an upstairs room to cheer the O’Donovans.
“I put in an order yesterday for 90 T-shirts and we got them today at 1.30pm and they were all gone by 2pm,” she said as she made her way past samba drummer Thomas Duffy to head upstairs to join the fans crowding around the big screen erected by the credit union.
The credit union manager, Donal O’Driscoll, who is himself a native of Lisheen, said the O’Donovans used to play underage Gaelic football with Ilen Rovers until they caught the rowing bug and had never looked back.
“Great credit is due to their coach Dominic Casey. He really has made Skibbereen Rowing Club what it is today – it was only founded in 1970 so it’s a very young club but it now leads the national roll of honour in terms of national titles, and the boys going to Rio is a huge honour for Skibbereen.”
“We’re stuck in the middle of a powerful GAA area with three senior football teams, while we also have a strong rugby club as well as several soccer clubs, so we’re always competing for members. But Paul and Gary have done so much already to promote the sport by just reaching the final,” he said.
The scrum of fans surged towards the screen to watch Claire Lambe and Sinead Lynch in the women’s lightweight double sculls and while there was disappointment when they finished sixth, it quickly dissipated in a cacophony of screams as the O’Donovans appeared on screen.
There was silence as the race started but the noise level soon rose as the Lisheen boys gradually began to power their way into contention by the 500m mark and the chorus of Ireland, Ireland, Ireland echoed around the room.
However, her delight was only temporarily delayed as the O’Donovans put in a massive effort over the final 500m.
“Incredible,” said Skibbereen Rowing Club secretary TJ Ryan with tears streaming down his face as he prepared to do an interview with Joe Duffy on RTÉ’s Liveline, only to be drowned out by a screams as the picture on the screen suddenly cut to the fans in the credit union offices.
“When they beat the Italians who were fourth seeds in the semi-final, I reckoned they were good for a medal – their times were up there – I thought they might be holding back a bit for the final and they could have pipped the French in the end – it was a just a canvas between them,” Mr Ryan said.