The first Grand League Regatta of the new season, Skibbereen’s at the National Rowing Centre, is so all-embracing that it is almost easier to cite who is not competing than who is.
The two days (April 8th and 9th) feature four of the five Ireland rowers who competed in Rio, with just Sinead Lynch, who is on a break this year, not rowing.
Claire Lambe, fresh from winning the women's Boat Race with Cambridge, teams up with fellow Olympian Sanita Puspure in a double, while Olympic silver medallists Paul and Gary O'Donovan row in a number of combinations.
The next time many spectators see the O’Donovan brothers may be when they defend their lightweight doubles title at the European Championships in May, an event which is being televised by RTÉ.
Five senior men’s eights are entered at Skibbereen, but they do not include Trinity, who have opted out in the week running up to their own regatta. However, they will take on UCD and NUIG on Friday at the NRC in at what should be one of the most competitive Irish University Championships.
The Sport Ireland allocation of €525,000 for the year ahead is a step up. The funding is needed. The effectiveness of camps and the need for more of them is one of the clarion notes which rings from the Rio Review.
Lack of clarity
The study, done for Sport Ireland, praises the “exceptional” group of athletes and picks out some of the flaws in the regime: the lack of clarity for athletes; the hostility (described by some as “toxic”) which on occasion flared up between the high-performance director, Morten Espersen, and head coach Don McLachlan; the organisational glitches which saw athletes taking over some of their own logistical planning. It also criticises Dominic Casey for not providing some progress reports.
One of the key recommendations is for a team manager for basic organisation. Another is for a clear pathway for club rowers into the international structures.
Outgoing high-performance director Espersen said he did not feel the report was fair. He joked: “I see all these critical things – how the hell did we get the results we got?”
On the specifics, he rejects the claim that Dominic Casey did not provide reports: “He always provided the reports to me, the HPD”.
He also claims that hostility with McLachlan was not at the level stated. On the development pathway, Espersen cites the team of Irish coaches put in place and the increasingly good placings in the junior, under-23 and senior international events.
"Is that not a development pathway?" he added: "We would love to have had a junior, under-23 and development coach. Why did we not? We did not get the funding [for them] from the Irish Sports Council. "
Espersen said that this year’s high-performance grant was well below what a sport where Ireland places 12th to 13th in the world should be getting: athletics, sailing, boxing, swimming and hockey get more. And participation should not be the test, but high performance, which is reflected in the remarkable figure of €196,000 earmarked for carded rowers.
The throughput of young rowers coming through is remarkable. This was very noticeable at the Neptune and Commercial regattas last weekend. A big part of this boost for the sport is the number of girls brought in by the hard work done in the Get Going Get Rowing programme.
Sport Ireland notes this in in a striking graphic with their grant allocation, stating that over 15,000 girls had taken part in the programme.