Irish rowers back to work after finishing 2017 with a flourish

Retirement of French man Jeremie Azou opens opportunity for O’Donovans

The 2017 season ended with a pleasing set of results for Ireland competitors. At the Head of the Charles boat club in Boston, Sanita Puspure helped power the women's Great Eight to victory, while Paul O'Donovan was part of the men's Great Eight that finished second. Paul also reformed the partnership with his brother, Gary, and took second in the men's Championship Doubles.

The top rowers in the country are just a bare week away from the heavy preparation for 2018. A high-performance training camp is set for next Friday, November 3rd, running to November 14th. The first Ireland trial will then be held on November 18th and 19th.

Those invited to the camp include Sinéad Lynch, former world champion and finalist at the 2016 Olympic Games. But a return for Lynch is not on the cards. Or at least not yet.

“I don’t know how my name got on there,” Lynch said. “I won’t be in a position to go back this season. I have to complete my GP training. Next year, maybe at the end of 2018, I will make the decision.”


Lynch (41) is recovering from a hamstring injury. She intends to stay fit through the year ahead, but she will not return to the Ireland system unless she feels there is a real chance of success at the end of the process.

The longevity of lightweights is a hot topic. World and Olympic champion Jeremie Azou of France, who is just 28, announced his retirement. He said he was tired. For 10 years, he intimated in his blog, his life was rigorous. "A 'no life' mode that applies morning and evening, weekends and holidays. All at the expense of personal life and the rest."

He went on: “It is binary: all or nothing! In rowing, talent is not enough. There are no small concessions. Rigour, work and patience are the ingredients. I understood it very early and applied the recipe to the letter. This is what allows me today to contemplate the path travelled without regret.”

Opportunity for O’Donovans

Azou quitting will spark the break-up of the World and Olympic champion crew in the lightweight double that Azou formed with Pierre Houin. On the face of it, this lifts Paul and Gary O’Donovan into the top slot in the world: they finished just half a second behind France at the Olympic Games. This logic is simplistic, however. Through 2017, Gary O’Donovan made a refrain of the contention that this boat class is hugely competitive. France won four big events in 2017; Italy were second in two of the biggest; Ireland were second in the other two.

With the disappearance of the lightweight four, this boat is the only one in which a lightweight oarsman can reach the very top level. Ireland may take gold in Tokyo 2020. It is unlikely to be a straight road to that point.

Two of the leading Irish lightweight men, world under-23 medallists David O’Malley and Shane Mulvaney, are entered as a UCD pair in the Castleconnell Head of the River this Saturday. The event has a record entry. There are 13 men’s junior pairs entered and seven men’s masters eights. The head has introduced the novel event of a Bulls and Bears race, where pairs are sorted according to their results and then form two eights to race for prizes.

Solo rower Damian Browne will have Irish company in the Atlantic Challenge ocean race this December. The Relentless crew is made up of Sean Underwood and Eoin O’Farrell (both of whom rowed with Presentation Brothers College, Cork), Patrick O’Connor and Thomas Browne. They have already raised over €8,000 for Cork University Hospital.

The final day for entry for the Get Going, Get Rowing Blitzit event is today, Friday, October 27th. The ergometer blitz will be held on November 10th.

The Irish Coastal Rowing Federation promises a detailed response next week to the news that Rowing Ireland has formed a Coastal Division and will run a new event, the Irish Coastal Rowing Championships in 2018.

Liam Gorman

Liam Gorman

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