O’Donovan brothers still split in likely boat selection for Olympics

Paul O’Donovan will partner Fintan McCarthy again at European Championships

Paul and Gary O’Donovan will be in action at the European Rowing Championships but not in the same boat. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

One of the last times Paul and Gary O’Donovan were seen seated together it wasn’t in the same boat but rather talking about what it would take to get back into the same boat, preferably in time for the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021.

That was exactly a year ago, talking about how the postponed 2020 Olympics would likely influence their motivation over the following 12 months. At that point, Gary was no longer part of lightweight men’s double with his younger brother Paul, who together famously won the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

By 2019, the new Paul O’Donovan-Fintan McCarthy combination was the preferred choice and together they won gold at the 2019 World Rowing Championships, qualifying the boat for the Olympics while also winning silver at the World Rowing Cup III in Rotterdam that same year.

Although Paul O’Donovan hasn’t rowed competitively since – skipping last year’s European Championships in Poznan, Poland to concentrate on his medical studies – he will again partner the young McCarthy, also from Skibbereen, at this weekend’s European Rowing Championships in Varese, Italy.


Gary O’Donovan, meanwhile, will be competing in the lightweight men’s single only, and hasn’t yet given up hope of getting back in the boat with his brother in time for Tokyo. The results in Varese may ultimately decide that matter.

Speaking to The Irish Times earlier this year, Paul O’Donovan, who turns 27 later this month, said there was no such thing as any guaranteed place in the boat, for either himself or his older brother Gary (now 28).

“You have to go with the flow,” he says. “You think of all the possible situations before, you either make the crew or don’t make the crew, and if you make the crew you perform well and you win a medal or you don’t win a medal.

“Shane [O’Driscoll]left the group during the summer, he’s taken a job in engineering. So there’s myself Gary, Fintan and Fintan’s brother Jake. Unfortunately Jake had a disc injury in his back there during the summer so he’s been spending a lot of the winter recovering from that and doing bits on the stationary bike.

“Some people assume that I’m in the boat and that I have to think about being in peak shape in the last week of July for the Games but selection for the boat is really early and the boys are in better shape than they’ve ever been as well so it’s going to be really competitive to make the boat.”

Brotherly role

Any sibling rivalry has usually been lost in the boat, especially if there’s any loss of that “pull like dogs” tactic like in Rio, only McCarthy, who went on to win bronze in the lightweight men’s single in Poznan, looks more certain than ever now to play any brotherly role with Paul O’Donovan come the Olympics in July.

Even with two-time European champion Sanita Puspure not defending her women’s single sculls title in Varese, there are other medal hopes among the eight Irish crews, made up of 17 rowers. For Puspure, the Cork-based rower who turned 39 last year, the chief target of the year remains the Olympics. Puspure will, however, travel with the Irish team to Varese and from there to a training camp in further preparation for Tokyo.

In Poznan, the seven Irish crews produced four medal winners, the other three ranked in the top-eight. Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne will be competing in the men’s double in Varese, qualifying that boat for Tokyo by winning silver at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Linz. Doyle missed the 2020 European Championships as he took time out during 2020 to return to medicine full time in Daisy Hill hospital to resume his role as a doctor during the pandemic.

The crew of Fiona Murtagh (who won bronze in Poznan), Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh and Emily Hegarty will be competing in the women’s four. Aileen Crowley and Monika Dukarska will be competing in the women’s pair, with Margaret Cremen and Aoife Casey in the lightweight women’s double.

Irish Crews, European Rowing Championships, Varese, April 9th-11th

M2x: Ronan Byrne (UCC), Philip Doyle (Belfast Boat Club), Daire Lynch (Clonmel)- Reserve

M1x: Daire Lynch (Clonmel)

W4: Fiona Murtagh (NUIG), Eimear Lambe (OCBC), Aifric Keogh (UCC), Emily Hegarty (UCC)

W2: Monika Dukarska (Killorglin), Aileen Crowley (OCBC)

W4-/W2- Reserve: Tara Hanlon (UCC RC), Claire Feerick (Neptune RC)

LM1x: Gary O’Donovan (Skibbereen)

LM2x: Paul O’Donovan (UCC), Fintan McCarthy (Skibbereen)

LW2x: Margaret Cremen (UCC), Aoife Casey (UCC)

LW1x: Lydia Heaphy (UCC)

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics