Ireland’s premier boats look set for medal assault in Lucerne

Paul and Gary O’Donovan and single sculler Sanita Puspure win World Cup semi-finals

Ireland’s two premier boats, the lightweight double of Paul and Gary O’Donovan and single sculler Sanita Puspure, won their semi-finals and look set to be contenders for medals on the final day of the World Cup Regatta in Lucerne.

The lightweight double produces extraordinarily close races and this semi followed the pattern. Denmark set the early pace, but nobody was certain of a top-three place until the very finals stages of the 2,000 metres. The O’Donovans led through 1500 metres and crossed the line first, with Denmark and Canada taking the other A Final places.

Belgium won the other semi-final in a slightly slower time.

Puspure kept her good run of form going. The Ireland sculler won her semi-final convincingly, giving every indication that she intends to find herself on the podium again, as she did in the first World Cup Regatta in Belgrade, where she took silver.

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Annekatrin Thiele of Germany raced Puspure in the first half of the semi-final, but Puspure took a clear lead and won. Austria's Magdalena Lobnig and Thiele filled the other two spots for the final. World champion Jeannine Gmelin won the other semi convincingly in a much faster time and will intend to keep her own winning run going in the final.

Mark O'Donovan and Shane O'Driscoll, the world lightweight pairs champions, pushed very hard to make the A Final in the heavyweight pairs. They took fourth in their semi-final, missing out by just one place. The Ireland women's double and pair will also compete in B Finals, while in men's single, debutant Philip Doyle took third in the C Final.

UCD had a stirring win in the men’s intermediate eight at the Irish Rowing Championships. Four boats charged to the line at the NRC, but the men in blue had the edge over Cork, who had done so well at Henley and targeted this race. Trinity and Commercial finished third and fourth.

Molloy Curry, sculling in lane six, held off Aobhinn Keating of Skibereen to win the junior women's single sculls. Curry, who is just 16 and a top-class swimmer, was taking the first title for Coleraine GS (formerly CAI) since 1990.

Queen’s came from behind to beat UCD in the women’s novice eight, and Enniskillen left no one in doubt as to the winners of the men’s junior coxed four.

The men's senior pairs final offered a chance for Ireland under-23 rowers David O'Malley and Shane Mulvaney to prove themselves the best in the country - but it is a chance they will never get. The declared entries were not sufficient to stage a race - and the event cannot be held next year as it has not attracted enough entries over a number of years to go on.

This situation highlights a problem for the regatta, and Irish rowing. Many club crews will not take on international athletes such as O’Malley and Mulvaney. One coach suggested it is “amateurs versus professionals”.

But most internationals are dedicated rowers with very little funding, and the numbers at senior level are too low for this not to hurt the sport. There are many grades in rowing as it is organised at the moment and thus chances for adult rowers to win at other levels.

The evening session on Saturday provided fireworks with an international angle. Shandon’s junior quadruple and Skibbereen’s senior one both had fast wins – all four Shandon men will represent Ireland at the World Junior Championships (three in a quad and one in a four), while the McCarthy twins from Skibbereen, Jake and Fintan, form the Ireland lightweight double for the World Under-23 Championships this month. Kealan Mannix, winning his first pot, and Aodhan Burns completed the Skibbereen crew.

Enniskillen has also been a factory for producing fast juniors, and their junior women’s eight took a title, as did UCD’s novice men.

Lisa Dilleen of Cork was outstanding in her win in the women’s senior single, and UCC’s Ronan Byrne similarly impressive as he won the intermediate single, though Niall Beggan of Commercial chased him to the line. Skibbereen’s win in the senior women’s pair came courtesy of Niamh Casey and Aine McCarthy.

The last title of the day went to Neptune – and Singapore. Joan Poh won the women’s club single sculls.

Liam Gorman

Liam Gorman

Liam Gorman is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in rowing