The international season opened with a bang for Ireland with two medals at the first World Cup in Varese.
The domestic season fittingly follows it with the ever-growing Irish Schools Regatta on Sunday.
Underage rowing has been drawing in remarkable numbers, not least because of work done by Michelle Carpenter and Jen Cunnigham in the Get Going Get Rowing campaign, and 416 crews from 71 schools from around the island will turn out on Sunday at O'Brien's Bridge. In 2014, the number of schools was 44. Last year it was 62.
The bulk of the entry at domestic regattas is now made up of junior crews, and Saturday’s Limerick Regatta, also at O’Brien’s Bridge, is virtually a junior event. Daire O’Brien, who will wear the Ireland colours this season, is set for a busy weekend. He competes for Clonmel RC on Saturday and Clonmel CBS on Sunday.
The balance between international and domestic seasons is a vexed issue, and a Rowing Ireland proposal to switch the Irish senior championships from July to September, when internationals might compete, was again beaten back at Sunday’s egm. The domestic season may finally be reformed if there is such major success for the international team that they become a bigger part of the whole.
If the highlight at the World Cup was the silver medal for the lightweight men’s double and bronze for Sanita Puspure, for one Ireland crew it was the end.
The lightweight four finished 16th overall and will not be going forward, according to high performance director, Morten Espersen. The women’s pair also did poorly. A test for the women’s lightweight single, with an eye to the European Championships, has been scheduled for Saturday.
Siobhán McCrohan was injured in Varese and may come into the picture later in the season.
Puspure's task at next month's Olympic qualifier is difficult: there are three places on offer, but 2014 world champion Emma Twigg, who did not represent New Zealand last season, should take one. Ekaterina Karsten can take another. She has competed at the last six Games – she took bronze in Barcelona in 1992, and has won two golds, a silver and a bronze in subsequent Olympics. Karsten turns 44 in June, but she won silver on Sunday, ahead of Puspure.
For Gary and Paul O’Donovan in the lightweight double, the question is: how far can they go? They have been playing down their importance of their medal – just .23 of a second behind the crew with the world’s best time (6 minutes 5.36 seconds set at the 2014 World Championships) – but they are a fiercely ambtious unit and their 5,000 kilometres of water work before the season opened has put them in the physical shape where they can take on the best with some confidence.
Lightweight rowing is a game of the finest margins – this reporter saw South Africa win gold in the lightweight four in London against the odds. And it is hard to stay on top: the Olympic champions in the lightweight double, Denmark, finished sixth on Sunday and have not yet qualified for Rio.