Rowing: Maurogiovanni confident about Ireland’s future prospects

Medals at the Tokyo Olympics the target for national high performance director

“It’s time to celebrate but it’s also time to reflect and see what we can do better next year,” the Ireland high performance director for rowing said yesterday.

In a long and comprehensive review of World Championships seen by the Irish Times, Antonio Maurogiovanni states that Ireland "has a great and exciting opportunity to be one of the top rowing federations in the next two years".

He praises all who supported the team, which won two gold medals and qualified for four finals. He includes volunteers, Rowing Ireland staff, families and friends of athletes.

But he has concerns “based on the fact that these results have been built on a very fragile platform/system supported by an exceptionally tight budget which needs to be reinforced. My challenge as HPD is to make sure that these results are not going to be a one off”.

Other countries will “utilise more financial and human resources in order to put all of their high performance teams in a strong and/or stronger position in order to meet their own expected targets. Next year is the Olympic qualification one and all the countries will try to qualify as many as possible boats. We need to be in a position to respond to this”.

The support of the whole of Ireland is needed, he says. He gives his team a high target in the medium term.

"My [high performance] team goal for the next two years is not to just qualify boats for Tokyo but qualify boats for Tokyo which will be competitive enough to gain an A final and a medal. I believe that it is realistically possible but I am fully aware that is not going to be easy."

He heaps praise on the “passionate” rowers and the good example they give. He concludes: “Enjoy the celebrations but we need to get back to business. The real fun is yet to come!”

The two full-time Ireland coaches, lightweight coach Dominic Casey and David McGowan, who has taken charge of heavyweights, have also been analysing the season. Both commend the athletes and those who worked with them or supported them. The heavyweight and lightweight structures have not always pulled in the same direction, but McGowan is effusive about Casey.

“[He is] an absolute legend in his knowledge, work ethic and determination. When things got tough he was always close by to support. I have felt so blessed to be surrounded by such a hardworking, passionate and experienced coach as Dominic every day.”

Maurogiovanni and McGowan have been abroad, but the Irish Open and the new Youth Regatta went ahead on Saturday at the National Rowing Centre.

17 clubs

The Open was a trial for senior athletes not involved in the World Championships; for juniors with Ireland ambitions it was a chance to get back into the routine.

“Look, we won’t be making selection decisions based on this, [but] let’s start!” Maurogiovanni said.

The new Youth event drew relatively small numbers, yet there were 17 clubs involved, including a few from Ulster. The gold, silver and bronze medals were popular – particularly as World Championship gold medallist Sanita Puspure was on hand to present them.

“We have something to build on now,” said TJ Ryan, one of the main organisers.

Sport is fleeting by nature, but fly forward 10 or 15 years and a young woman or man may smile as they tell how meeting a World Championship star ignited their passion for a sporting life.

The event to honour the Ireland team also thrilled the many young people who attended. The dignitaries, including the the Minister of State for Sport, Brendan Griffin, also seemed taken with Ireland’s golden trio of Paul and Gary O’Donovan and Sanita Puspure.

The gold medallists go in different directions in the next while: Paul O'Donovan to medical studies in UCC; Gary to Boston for the Head of the Charles on October 20th; Sanita Puspure to the Gold Cup race, held at The Head of the Schuylkill Regatta in Philadelphia on October 27th. There is prizemoney for the top single sculler.

Ireland’s exploits on the world stage continue next weekend. The World Coastal Rowing Championships will be held in Victoria, Canada. Despite the long distance travel involved, a big team is set to travel – there are seven Irish entries in the men’s solo alone, headed up by Irish champion Patrick Boomer. This class is so big (there are 58 entries), that there will be qualification races next Thursday, October 11th.

The Neptune Head of the River, scheduled for November 3rd, has been cancelled. The event had been one of the pillars of the rowing calendar for years, but for each of the past three years (2015 to 2017) it has had to be called off due to weather concerns. Ironically, perhaps, this season’s cancellation is not about the prospect of bad weather. The low level of water at Blessington is being blamed. The sucking mud along the water’s edge has, literally, caught out some rowers and coaches.

Liam Gorman

Liam Gorman

Liam Gorman is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in rowing