Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy land rowing gold in Italy

Pair’s victory follows silver medal for women’s four crew at European Championships

Ireland’s Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan celebrate their gold medal win in Italy. Photograph: Detlev Seyb/Inpho

The Skibbereen pair of Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy completed their dominance of the lightweight men’s double sculls with an Irish gold medal at the European Championships in Varese, Italy.

It is O’Donovan’s second European gold medal to add to four World Championship gold medals and an Olympic silver medal from Rio in 2016, making him one of the most decorated athletes in Irish sporting history.

McCarthy adds his gold to the World Championship gold he won in 2019 with O’Donovan in a boat that now has Olympic hopes for a medal in the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.

They were joined on the podium on the final day of racing by the women’s four of Emily Hegarty, Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh and Fiona Murtagh. They came from a slow start to finish strongly and take the silver medal just a canvas behind the Dutch winners giving two Irish boats and six athletes European Champions medals.


“It was a decent race, it’s good to be back,” said a long haired and bearded O’Donovan, giving little but his humour away after the national anthem. “I was off last season so Fintan raced in the single last year. Fintan is just dragging me along in the double. We need bigger biceps. We’re gonna work on some curls which will see us through to the end of the summer.”

Ireland set out of the 2000m men’s race conservatively as the German boat set the pace, stroke O’Donovan and McCarthy finding themselves in third place. But at the 1000m mark they had comfortably settled into second less than a second behind the still leading German boat.

In typical fashion the pair maintained their tempo to take first place going through 1500m and were almost a second ahead at that point. But short of slowing the boat increased its pace over the final 300m to comfortably take first place in 6:18.14, more than a second quicker than the second placed Germans.

The Women’s Four of Hegarty, Lambe, Keogh and Murtagh did everything but push the Dutch boat into second place in their final with a controlled surge over the last quarter of the course.

After a slow start, the Irish boat was third into the first 500m in what is a new Olympic event. However, by the third quarter, Ireland began making their move, first taking Britain at the 1500m mark and creeping towards the lead Netherlands’ boat.

Ireland had enough energy and poise over the final few hundred metres to push the Dutch to the very end, easily taking second place and the silver medal, the winning boat just holding them off by a canvass.

The first and second places were fractions of a second apart, the winning Dutch coming home in 6:27.51 and Ireland just behind them in 6:27.96.

“The medal this year means a lot to us because we’re so close to Olympic qualification,” said Keogh afterwards. “A lot of crews From Ireland are already qualified, and for us to be able to finish that close to the Dutch is a really huge confidence boost.”

O’Donovan’s brother Gary had medal hopes but finished in fourth in the final of the lightweight men’s single sculls. The Skibbereen rower trailed last for much of the race and although he came with a late charge, could not overhaul Poland’s Artur Mikolajczewski from third spot. The race was won by Hungary’s Peter Galambos in a time of 7:01.52, with O’Donovan over four seconds adrift with 7:05.82.

In the final of the lightweight women’s single sculls, Lydia Heaphy from the UCC Rowing club, finished sixth in a time of 7:58.70, while the pair of Ronan Byrne and Phil Doyle won the double sculls B final, with Daire Lynch second.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times