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Busy schedule of rowing puts focus back on the water

Neptune Regatta to get season started at Islandbridge with 368 crews expected

Ireland’s Gary O’Donovan and Paul O’Donovan are to again team up Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan at the Skibbereen Regatta. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho.

Irish rowing may be making headlines for off-the-water activity, but the balance will soon be restored.

The next nine days (Saturday, April 1st to Sunday, April 9th) features four regattas and five days of action. The common factor is huge entries.

Skibbereen’s two-day regatta, with an entry of 668 crews, will complete the sequence at the National Rowing Centre next weekend. Neptune starts it, and the regatta season, on Saturday at Islandbridge.

Their mostly-young entry of 369 crews – covering the island from Killorglin to Coleraine – was too big to facilitate in a manageable programme on the two lanes available, so the regatta committee cut out all the single sculls events. The programme now runs over 12 hours (the first race goes off at 7.30am). Neighbours Commercial run a regatta which covers a similar time footprint on Sunday, starting at 7.45am.

Friday brings the Irish Universities Championships at the National Rowing Centre. UCD hope to have their strongest student eight available. Shane Mulvaney, who complained of heart problems at the Ireland trial and spent a night in hospital, is back in training.

In the women’s senior eight Trinity get a chance to have another crack at UCD, who won the Corcoran Cup after Trinity lost their rudder.

Skibbereen Regatta, the first in the series of Grand League events and part of the international trialling process for a number of crews, can confidently claim to be the top regatta of the season apart from the Irish Championships.

The Division One men’s fours and men’s quadruple features a Skibbereen/UCD composite which is world class: Olympic silver medallists Paul and Gary O’Donovan team up with Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan, who were fourth in the world in the lightweight pair in 2016.

These crews could feature again at the Irish Championships, as there is no clash with the World Cup season.

Ireland Olympian Claire Lambe is also busy. On Sunday she will become the first Ireland female international to row for Cambridge in the women’s boat race in London.

“The build up to the race has been fantastic so far,” she told The Irish Times. “It feels the closest a rower can get to preforming in a big stadium as a rugby or football team does. It is most watched rowing race, even above the Olympics.”

Off the water, the headline-grabbing issue at the Rowing Ireland agm was the attack by Mick O’Callaghan on the board for what he claimed was behaviour that resulted in Morten Espersen resigning from his post as high performance director.

Speak publicly

Espersen will not speak publicly, but sat beside O’Callaghan and did not demur. The board wanted changes to Espersen’s way of doing things – including what they saw as too much weight being given to O’Callaghan’s views.

The meeting of the high performance committee in Limerick in January was a turning point. Espersen was hurt by the tone and particularly by the precis he was given. He was not prepared to be told what to do by people whom he saw as much less qualified than he.

The new president of Rowing Ireland is certainly not the stuff-shirted toff that those who sneer at rowing conjure up.

Eamonn Colclough is from Tyrconnell Park in Inchicore. He took up rowing as a boy when an Oblate priest (Fr Breslin) suggested it might suit him. He switched over (on the suggestion of then coach Micheal Johnston) and rowed senior for Neptune. He brought up a big family in Galway, where he settled due to army commitments. He rose to a position of lieutenant colonel in the army, commanding the Irish contingent in Kosovo as one of a set of overseas postings.

On his retirement from the army he took to academic life and he has recently completed a doctorate in Peace Studies.

Speaking to The Irish Times this week he outlined his key aim as “growing the sport” – across club, high performance and recreational rowing. He sees great potential for recreational rowing to boost the numbers involved in clubs, as has been the case in his club, Tribesmen.

The word “retention” was possibly the most used one at the agm. Frank Coghlan, the effective but self-effacing honorary secretary, left his post with a polemic which called for radical cuts to be made to the amount of titles which are available at the Irish Championships.

A GAA player does not expect to win an All-Ireland the year after taking up the sport, why should rowers have this view? In truth it is the clubs rather than the rowers which may need to bite back their ambitions of amassing titles.

Future championships could feature a set of meaningful, easily-understood events – run as under-18, under-23 and senior, with medals for first, second and third – which might see the retention of ambitious athletes and draw in spectators.

On the other side of the world, UCD sculler Aileen Crowley has shown good form in Australia. She reached the final of the Sydney International Regatta.