It is a mark of the growth in numbers in Irish rowing that the top quality two-day Skibbereen Regatta is not the only big event this weekend. Portadown runs its regatta on Saturday – and it has record numbers. The large entry, primarily of junior rowers, necessitates time trials for some events in a programme running from 8am until after 7pm.
Skibbereen has the six lanes of the National Rowing Centre to play with on Saturday and Sunday. As a Grand League event it will give everyone at least two races.
Another major attraction of Grand League events is that top juniors get a cut at seniors. In the quadruple sculls, for example, the Ireland junior crew of Anna Tyther (Killorglin), Sadhbh Scully (Carlow), Aoife Lynch (Lee) and Lucy McCoy (Belfast) takes on Skibbereen/UC, who can call on Aoife Casey, Denise Walsh and Lydia Heaphy – just back from the Ireland camp in Italy – and Orla Hayes.
While the athletes have returned from Italy, the boats have been delayed. World champion Sanita Puspure may, therefore, not compete this weekend.
However, some other top internationals are all set, according to Denise Walsh, the regatta secretary. The men's quad will see Ronan Byrne and Philip Doyle team up with Skibbereen twins Fintan and Jake McCarthy. Paul O'Donovan's heavy schedule as a medical student may put his participation in doubt, but Aifric Keogh and Emily Hegarty are set to row in a UCC eight which is full of talented competitors.
The men's eight should be a highlight. Irish champions Commercial take on UCD, who are boosted this season by the full availability of David O'Malley and Shane Mulvaney. They won gold for Ireland last year at the World under-23 championships, but have stepped away from the international system. Shane O'Connell and Andrew Goff are also named in the crew.
This UCD quartet formed the four which won at the abandoned Irish University Championships last month. The remaining races will be held on Sunday, June 9th, at Lough Rinn.
Rowing Ireland is set to announce a new sponsor next week. Novel sources of funding are welcome for a sport which sometimes seems to be bursting at the seams at junior level and aiming high in international terms.
Speaking to The Irish Times at the most recent trial, the Ireland high performance director Antonio Maurogiovanni was frank about his ambitions for this year, when Olympic qualification for a number of boats is the primary aim.
“The goal that I have is not just to qualify. It is to qualify boats to make sure that we have crews competitive next year.
"We don't want to qualify the boat and be in the B or C final at the Olympic Games. That is not my goal, that is not our goal. That is not the Rowing Ireland goal. We like to qualify the boats, and after that we want boats that can be competitive at the Olympic Games. That is what we want."