The days ahead will be busy ones for Irish rowers. The four elite oarsmen who have won glory – and a stack of medals – on foreign waters test themselves in the New Zealand National Championships, while there are trials, camps and off-the-water attractions back in Ireland.
The North Island Club Championships last weekend gave the Skibbereen quartet of Paul O'Donovan, Gary O'Donovan, Mark O'Donovan and Shane O'Driscoll a taste of the very high standard of competitive rowing in New Zealand. The pick of the results was probably Paul O'Donovan's: he did well to reach the final of the Premier (heavyweight) single sculls and a fast start and finish secured him a creditable sixth in a race won by Robbie Manson, who last year set the record as the fastest single sculler in the world (six minutes 30.74, set in Poznan, Poland).
The Irish, competing in their off season and as heavyweights, will have a bit more time in the southern hemisphere under their belts come Tuesday week, when the national championships begin on Lake Karapiro. The Irish competitors have also been joined by the man who has played a big part in driving them on to the heights they have reached. Dominic Casey, the Ireland lightweight coach, reports himself settled in at his new base on the other side of the world.
Back in Ireland, Australian coach Dave McGowan will soon be setting to work as heavyweight coach in the high performance system – he may even attend the senior trial at the National Rowing Centre on February 24th.
This weekend’s training camp at the NRC will go ahead – the forecast of north/northwest winds will chill the participants but should not force them off the lake. However, the weather has claimed two heads of the river: the Kerry head last weekend and the Dam Buster head which had been set for this Saturday, February 3rd – its second run at finding a suitable date.
The junior trials, originally set for December, have been rescheduled for February 17th and 18th at the NRC, while the senior trials are set for the following weekend.
The junior ranks – perhaps through what a Northern Ireland rowing man called "the O'Donovan effect" – are buzzing just now. It was very noticeable at the recent Indoor Rowing Championships that some of the best times came from young juniors. Two 15-year-olds, Molly Curry of Coleraine Grammar School and Tristan Orlic of Neptune, set the second best times for under-18 girls and boys. They have been invited to the trials. Orlic, who grew up in Croatia, spoke of wanting to compete for Ireland. Some events will be open to him, though others will be possible only when he qualifies for an Ireland passport.
Another encouraging result came in the women’s under-23 class: Emily Hegarty’s time of 6:56.7 was the third best women’s time, though the UCC woman is just 19.
The organising committee of the Coupe de la Jeunesse will visit the NRC on February 24th, the day of the Ireland trial. The venue will host the European junior tournament in July.
In Dublin on the 24th there will be a talk by Leander archivist and rowing commentator Robert Treharne Jones on "the Leander Three " – three sister rowing trophies which link the famed English club with Ireland. The one which will be familiar to Irish rowing people is the truly magnificent Leander trophy which was donated by the club in 1904. It is presented to the best men's eight at Cork City Regatta each year. The other two are on permanent display at Leander club in Henley, but all three will be on show at Trinity for this special occasion.