Irish rowers add European gold and silver to their international haul

Paul O’Donovan is now among most-decorated athletes in Irish sporting history

Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy did it again. The Skibbereen pair completed their dominance of the lightweight men’s double sculls with an Irish gold medal at the European Championships in Varese, Italy.

It is O’Donovan’s second European gold medal to add to four World Championship gold medals and an Olympic silver medal from Rio, making him now one of the most-decorated athletes at world level in Irish sporting history.

McCarthy adds his European gold to the World Championship gold he won in 2019 with O’Donovan in a boat that has Olympic hopes for a medal in the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.

They were joined on the podium on the final day of racing by the women's four of Emily Hegarty, Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh and Fiona Murtagh, who came from a patient start to finish strongly and take the silver medal. Just a canvas separated them from the Dutch winners, giving two Irish boats and six Irish athletes European Championship medals.


“It was a decent race, it’s good to be back,” said a long-haired and bearded O’Donovan, giving little but his humour away after the national anthem. “I was off last season so Fintan raced in the single last year. Fintan is just dragging me along in the double. We need bigger biceps. We’re gonna work on some curls which will see us through to the end of the summer.”


Ireland coolly set out on the 2,000-metre men’s race trailing the German boat that set the pace, O’Donovan and McCarthy finding themselves in an early third place. But at the 1,000-metre mark they had comfortably settled into second, less than a second behind the still-leading Germans.

Without fuss, the pair maintained their tempo, picking their way to first place moving through the 1,500-metre mark and were almost a second ahead at that point. But far from slowing, the boat increased its pace over the final 300 metres to comfortably take the gold medal in 6:18.14, more than a second quicker than the second-placed Germans.

The Women’s Four of Hegarty, Lambe, Keogh and Murtagh did everything but push the Dutch boat into second place in their final with a controlled surge over the last quarter of the course.

The Irish boat was third into the first 500 metres in what is a new Olympic event. However, by the third quarter, Ireland began making their move, first taking Britain at the 1,500-metre mark and creeping towards the lead Netherlands boat.

Ireland had enough energy and poise over the final few hundred metres to push the Dutch to the very end, easily taking second place and the silver medal, the winning boat just holding them off by a canvas.


The first and second places were fractions of a second apart, the winning Dutch coming home in 6:27.51 and Ireland just behind them in 6:27.96.

“The medal this year means a lot to us because we’re so close to Olympic qualification,” said Keogh afterwards. “A lot of crews from Ireland are already qualified, and for us to be able to finish that close to the Dutch is a really huge confidence boost.”

Paul O’Donovan’s brother Gary had medal hopes but finished in fourth in the final of the lightweight men’s single sculls. The Skibbereen rower trailed last for much of the race and although he came with a late charge, could not overhaul Poland’s Artur Mikolajczewski from third spot. The race was won by Hungary’s Peter Galambos in a time of 7:01.52, with O’Donovan over four seconds adrift with 7:05.82.

“I would have liked to have been in the medals,” said O’Donovan. “It would have been nice to win. I had an all right race. It wasn’t my best race ever. But it was a step in the right direction compared to my previous international race in the singles. I’m much closer to the top guys now than I was before.”

In the final of the lightweight women's single sculls, Lydia Heaphy from the UCC Rowing club finished sixth in a time of 7:58.70, while the pair of Ronan Byrne and Phil Doyle won the double sculls B final, and Daire Lynch finished second in the men's single scull C final.

Race Results

M1x: Daire Lynch - C Final - 2nd Place
M2x: Phil Doyle & Ronan Byrne - B Final - 1st Place
LW1: Lydia Heaphy - A Final - 6th Place
LM1x: - Gary O'Donovan - A Final - 4th Place
W2: Monika Dukarska & Aileen Crowley - A Final - 6th Place
W4: Emily Hegarty, Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh & Fiona Murtagh - A Final - 2nd Place - Silver Medallists
LW2x: Aoife Casey & Margaret Cremen - A Final - 5th Place
LM2x: Paul O'Donovan & Fintan McCarthy - A Final - 1st Place - Gold Medallists

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times