Ireland’s fantastic rowing four named Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswomen for July

Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty won bronze in Tokyo

Ireland’s Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty celebrate with their bronze medals in Tokyo. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ireland’s Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty celebrate with their bronze medals in Tokyo. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

At the halfway point in their Olympic final, the likelihood of Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty becoming Ireland’s first medallists in Tokyo seemed slim enough, slimmer still when they dropped another place to fifth soon after with only Poland trailing them.

As Lambe, from Cabra in Dublin, put it after, “we had a bit of a rocky start, so we definitely didn’t make it easy for ourselves - but we just didn’t give up.”

They certainly didn’t, their performance in the second half of the race a stirring one, the quartet first overtaking China before edging past Britain in the final 200 metres to take bronze.

“We left it a bit late, didn’t we,” said Hegarty (who hails from the rowing capital of the world, Skibbereen) of what proved to be an exceptional late, late show, one that made them the first Irish female Olympic rowing medallists having only been the second Irish female crew to reach a final - after Claire Lambe, Eimear’s sister, and Sinéad Lynch in the lightweight double in Rio.

“It was a bit touch and go,” said Keogh, like Murtagh a Galwegian. “Throughout the race I was like ‘we could be fourth, fifth’. I was looking out and I was like ‘Oh god’ in my head - we were slipping back, but we said to ourselves if that happens we go early, and in the last km we backed ourselves.”

To add to any nerves they might already have been feeling ahead of the final, it was delayed by 24 hours due to a typhoon warning, a tricky tailwind making the conditions still difficult a day later. But they dug deep when they needed to, “we backed each other, stayed really loose and just went for it,” said Murtagh.

The strongly fancied Australians took gold in an Olympic best time of 6:15.37, a mere 0.34 seconds ahead of the Netherlands and just over five seconds ahead of Ireland who pipped Britain, who had been in bronze position for most of the race, by a second.

“It’s a bit surreal, to be honest,” said Lambe of the achievement. “It’s something for the future, and hopefully this will be the first of many, and hopefully it gives the young girls coming up now a bit of hope that this is completely possible. If we can do it, anyone can.”

Previous monthly winners (the awards run from December 2020 to November 2021, inclusive - only one monthly award can be won in any year, but the achievements of each sportswoman through the year are taken in to account when it come to choosing the overall winner):

December: Aoife Doyle (Camogie) and Sinead Goldrick (Gaelic football). The pair were both chosen as the player of the match in their respective All Ireland finals, Doyle’s display in the Kilkenny attack against Galway helping her county end a run of three successive final defeats, while an outstanding performance against Cork by Goldrick was a major factor in Dublin completing a four-in-a-row.

January: Nadia Power (Athletics). The 23-year-old Dubliner enjoyed an exceptional start to the year, setting a new Irish 800m indoor record in Vienna and knocking another two seconds off that mark a fortnight later in Torun, Poland, her form ultimately earning her a place on the Olympic team for the 800m. Tokyo, though, proved a bridge too far, Power bowing out with a seventh place finish in her heat.

February: Rachael Blackmore (Horse racing). A 10 length victory on Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, among other triumphs, earned Blackmore our February award. Since then? She’s done reasonably well: She was crowned top jockey at Cheltenham with six wins, won the Aintree Grand National, like you do, finished runner-up in the Irish jockeys championship with 92 winners, before winning another Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle, this time at Punchestown.

March: Leona Maguire (Golf). While she was disappointed with her 23rd place finish at the Olympics, Maguire has enjoyed a stellar year on the professional tour with five top 10 placings, including two runners-up spots. And last month her final round of 61 at the Amundi Evian Championship in France equalled the lowest round in major history, by either a male or female player.

April: Orla O’Dwyer (Australian Rules). O’Dwyer became just the second Irish woman to win the Aussie Rules AFLW Premiership title when she was part of the Brisbane Lions team that beat Adelaide Crows in April’s Grand Final. One of the country’s most gifted dual players, she returned home to play in both the camogie and football All Ireland championships, helping Tipperary reach the camogie quarter-finals - they play Waterford on Saturday week.

May: Katie Taylor (Boxing). Taylor had to produce one of her grittiest ever displays when she came up against England’s Natasha Jonas in Manchester in what was the 12th professional world title fight of her career. Come the end of it, she had retained her WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO lightweight titles and took her professional record to 18-0. Peerless.

June: Kellie Harrington (Boxing). You might have heard of her? Even before she set sail for Tokyo she made our list of monthly award winners by triumphing at the Olympic qualifier in Paris, beating reigning IBF super featherweight world champion Maiva Hamadouche in the quarter-finals before getting the better of Britain’s Caroline Dubois in the final. Once she got to Japan? You know yourself.

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