Elusive Olympic medal could pay big dividends for Irish sailing

Annalise Murphy Sailing Bursary to help young sailors

Annalise Murphy was back in Dún Laoghaire harbour on Thursday evening, where the sailing star spent so much of her childhood honing the skills that delivered last week's Olympic silver medal.

The National Yacht Club helmswoman was officially welcomed home to the port, as crowds of well-wishers gathered to share in the sailing success for an east coast town in need of maritime cheer.

At a presentation at the People's Park, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown cathaoirleach Cormac Devlin announced the Annalise Murphy Sailing Bursary, a collaboration with UCD, where the Olympian studied science.

Later, in a packed club house on the East Pier, honorary life membership of the National Yacht Club was bestowed on the 26-year-old who brought home Ireland’s first sailing medal in 36 years.


Murphy’s mother, Cathy MacAleavey, a 1988 Olympian, aptly described the rarity of her daughter’s feat.

“Winning a medal is like trying to pick up a grain of sand on a beach,” she said. “I hoped she could win it and I believed she could, but you just never know what’s going to happen.”

Not everything on the way to Rio was plain sailing for Murphy, including some lacklustre results early in 2016 but all that lies in her wake now thanks to a determination that defied many who said conditions in Rio would not suit her.

Now, more than a week since the medal race, the significance of what happened on Guanabara Bay is beginning to sink in. Murphy, who was never out of the top three for the week-long regatta, says one of her main hopes is that the medal will encourage newcomers to the sport.

To this end, the new bursary is to be awarded to an outstanding young sailor from a non-traditional sailing background to assist them in their third level education.


It is clear Murphy’s own vision chimes with the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) campaign to boost participation in a sport with a total current membership of approximately 17,000 nationally.

There’s certainly room to improve. To bring boat ownership in Ireland in line with the UK per capita figure, there would need to be a 36 per cent increase in the 26,000-strong Irish boat stock.

Public access to the water is an issue; there are more marina berths in north Wales than there are around Ireland’s entire 9,000km coastline. This island nation, has yet to develop a marine policy – a requirement under EU law. These are just some of the obstacles to any future marine leisure growth.

As Sport Ireland looks to funding the squad for Tokyo in 2020, there is no doubt that sailing (and rowing) will enter the negotiations with the considerable clout that medals bring, but there will be a more forensic analysis of what led to success and whether the sport has a pipeline that will lead to sustainability of results on the international stage.


"This medal proves that our strategy in high performance is working and is providing the success that all involved in sailing and sport crave," said David Lovegrove, president of the ISA.

The association will be able to point to the potential shown in Rio as well as an impressive track record by ISA academy members at Youth Worlds and World and European Championships.

“Annalise’s medal confirms our programme delivers the highest standard of performance but also makes a return to our domestic sport,” said James O’Callaghan, the ISA’s performance director.

Irish sailing is in a very strong position to negotiate vigorously, not only for high performance, but also for investment into the grassroots of the sport.

David O'Brien

David O'Brien

David O'Brien, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a former world Fireball sailing champion and represented Ireland in the Star keelboat at the 2000 Olympics