Time for sport to capitalise on O’Donovans’ stunning success

Board of Rowing Ireland must plot a way forward to build on Rio Olympics glory

Two Irish rowers will light up the Late Late Show tonight. Just hours before, the Irish rowing team will have drawn crowds to a special celebration at Commercial Rowing Club (3pm).

At a speed almost matching that of Olympic silver medallists, Paul and Gary O’Donovan, rowing has gone from a niche activity to a topic of widespread discussion.

For rowing people, the real interest is in what happens next. Change is certain. Just 40 months after he arrived and spoke of podium places in Rio, high performance director Morten Espersen has been offered a new, modified, role.

On the credit side was his push to put together crews early, which facilitated the formation of the O'Donovan lightweight double, with Dominic Casey buying in as coach.


Espersen is a man of ideas, but some did not work. He made a late case for a new domestic calendar but failed to convince the clubs. He told the 2014 agm that Ireland would send “three boats at least” to Rio; but his hope that the heavyweight women’s side would yield new fruit proved unfounded. [CROSSHEAD]Single sculler[/CROSSHEAD] Just single sculler Sanita Puspure, who had competed in London, made it from this group, and – albeit she had no luck but bad luck – she did not improve her position of 13th.

Coach Don McLachlan paid a price for this – his job.

Genevra Stone, the US Olympic silver medallist in Rio, has been among those backing McLachlan.

“Bad decisions by Rowing Ireland. Don is an amazing coach!” she said on Facebook.

The Rowing Ireland strategy for Tokyo aims to bring Casey further into the structures, though he has remained coy about whether he will accept a full-time post.

There has been a badly-needed outreach to Irish coaches. At the World Championships, this list included David Mannion, Noel Monahan, James Mangan, David O'Donovan and Paul Thornton.

This trend will continue, with raw material in the crop of under-23s and juniors who impressed in Rotterdam.

But there is a need for a serious bump up in funding. Britain’s Rio medals cost just over £4m each (€4.76m). The whole Sport Ireland grant to high performance rowing in the four years to the Olympics cost a third of that (€1.57m) and netted a silver medal and an ‘A’ Finalist.

One of the troubling things about rowing in recent years has been the burden it has put upon parents. If an athlete is world class and representing their country then parents should not have to dig into family money to fund them. [CROSSHEAD]Toff's sport[/CROSSHEAD] And let's consign to the bin the nonsense columnists come out with about rowing being a toff's sport. Look at the list of Irish world champions, from Niall O'Toole, through Sam Lynch, Sinéad Jennings, Gearóid Towey, Tony O'Connor, Paul O'Donovan. Not one of them is from a 'privileged' background.

The board of Rowing Ireland, which meets on Saturday, will come under pressure to push the training for the international team out to regional venues. The NRC is sited in a remote location and has tricky sight lines for spectators, but top athletes often praise it as a training venue. And there is no substitute for long blocks of team training in one venue.

On October 8th and 9th, the NRC is set to host the first event of the new season: the Irish Open. This will be a compulsory trial for those who hope to get into the programme for Tokyo 2020.

Liam Gorman

Liam Gorman

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