Irish rowers face heavyweight test in first New Zealand outings

Paul and Gary O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan all to move up in weight

Ireland lightweight coach Dominic Casey heads for New Zealand on Monday to join Paul and Gary O'Donovan and Shane O'Driscoll and Mark O'Donovan as they prepare to compete at the New Zealand Rowing Championships from February 13th to 17th on Lake Karapiro.

The four have trained with the New Zealand squad and will hope to do well, but Casey cautions against setting the bar too high for the Irish. “This is our off-season, but they [New Zealand rowers] will be in full competition.”

New Zealand has been one of the powerhouses of world rowing in recent years. Local competitors will be trying to impress, with the prospect of being chosen for the big international regattas in Europe in the Northern Hemisphere summer.

The Irish rowers will compete for the first time this weekend at the North Island Championships on Lake Karapiro. Mark O'Donovan and Shane O'Driscoll, the world champions in the lightweight pair, have made the jump to heavyweight. The double of Gary and Paul O'Donovan will also compete as heavyweights as they do not need to taper to lightweight this early in the season. The Skibbereen men have also lodged entries for the single sculls, with Paul O'Donovan likely to take this on at the New Zealand Championships.



Jeremie Azou of the France lightweight double which denied Paul and Gary O'Donovan gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 recently retired; his old crewmate, Stany Delayre, this week also joined him on the sidelines. Delayre and Azou were world champions in 2015, but the younger Pierre Houin replaced Delayre in 2016.

In a novel move, there will be a warm-weather camp just for Ireland heavyweight women in February. The two-week camp in Italy will follow on after the session for a bigger group at the National Rowing Centre in Cork on February 3rd and 4th.

As a new heavyweight coach has still to be appointed Antonio Maurogiovanni, the Ireland high performance director, intends to take the role of coach for the heavyweight women on their camp. Monika Dukarska, who had to retire ill at the Irish Indoor Rowing Championships in Limerick last weekend, may join Sanita Puspure, Aileen Crowley and Aifric Keogh on the camp.

Maurogiovanni described the Indoor event as "brilliant" and said there had been great performances by young athletes. He singled out Sanita Puspure, the top woman on the day, for praise and also name checked Crowley, Keogh and top lightweight Denise Walsh.

Young talent

Sam McKeown set a good time – and a new Irish record – for the men's heavyweight ranks, but his five minutes 53 seconds for the 2,000 metres saw him stand alone at the head of this grade. "Heavyweight men is always a big challenge for Rowing Ireland," Maurogiovanni said. The Italian added that young talent was in evidence at the event and that he was "keeping an eye" on the progress of Daire Lynch, who is a student at Yale University.

The Kerry Head of the River this Saturday, January 27th, is notable for the entry of Offshore boats. A week later, Carlow will host its rescheduled event (the Dambuster head) at Blessington.

For those who want a good yarn: the Late Late Show this week is set to feature the Relentless Rowers who set a new Irish record for crossing the Atlantic and raised big funds for Cork University Hospital.

Liam Gorman

Liam Gorman

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